Posts Tagged CityLights

Ideation – Play Review


“Laugh about it, cry about it, but a job is a job”. But is it really, and at what cost of personal credibility and supply of #alternativefacts does one maintain a job with questionable ethics?  In “Ideation”, playwright Aaron Loeb addresses the issue of morality and ethics, through a group of corporate consultants working together on a mysterious, exciting, well paying, and ethically ambiguous project.  Hannah (Lisa Mallette) is the in-house corporate executive and most senior member in the room.  Her job is to facilitate and drive the project but more in a conciliatory manner than by controlling.  She is joined by external consultants, Brock (George Psarras), Ted (Tom Gough), Sandeep (Sunny Moza).  Additionally Scooter (Max Tachis) is a young intern, pushed by Hannah’s boss JD to do odd jobs like take notes, get coffee, get required supplies and get the room ready.

Image result for ideation, citylights

While extremely short dead line creates some serious pressure, super secret hush-hush project with obscure mission about disposal of dead bodies lands the group into giant quagmire of ethical dilemmas.  As the group questions the morality of the tasks, goal, and strategy, suspicions emerges about who might be in charge of the project, could there be several such projects, could each team be privy to only limited amount of information, and who would bear moral responsibility for such a mission.  The paranoia quickly escalates to break down the team, as the members begin questioning who in the team has how much information and who could be a plant from the top and the ethical dilemma begins causing cognitive dissonance regarding their role in the entire affair.

Image result for ideation, citylightsDirected by Mark Anderson Phillips, the play is thought-provoking, devilishly dark, and infuriating (because most of the answers never come), but also funny.  In Trump era, marked by secrets and lies, it is also very timely. The interesting and thought provoking idea is that when a head honcho, someone at the top of the food chain refuses to be transparent and share the vision and properly considered tactical steps then there is a cascading feeling of paranoia and eventual breakdown in the team. Several times the team decides to stick to the project at hand and adhere to logic. But quickly the resolve evaporates in the looming cloud of suspicion, because logic and transparency go hand in hand, and in the absence of one, the other cannot be sustained.

Great kudos to Director, Phillips and the entire creative team, to production manager, Ron Gasparinetti and Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette, for bringing such timely and bold productions to San Jose, CityLights. For tickets, please go to www.cltc.org . Ideation will run till February 19, 2017.

 

 

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“Build” – Play Review (about a startup in Silicon Valley)


Written by Michael Golamco, “Build” is CityLights’ Executive Artistic Director, Lisa Mallette’s yet another bold venture aimed to bring thematically relevant plays to the Silicon Valley audience.  Set in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Palo Alto, CA, this is a story about — what else? A startup! And what could be more hot than a video gaming company?

I am going to skip a more typical review with detailed plot description, in favor of giving you a glimpse of the future envisioned in this production.  To give a little background of the plot, Kip (George Psarras) and Will (Max Tachis) had earlier conceived a brilliant game that resulted in a grand success, leading to what appears to be a milestone based buyout deal.  Unlike Will, dapper and immaculate, Kip, the creative genius, with disdain for money, and for following procedures, and grave dislike for documenting details to make hand off of work easier for others, has a harder time with monetary success, fast cars, suits and board and shareholder meetings.  Kip spends his days cloistered in his home mourning the loss of his late wife, and has abandoned social life, in favor of staying indoors, in his cluttered apartment, working on his next big project; only this time to give it away via open source and cloud.  And who else to keep him company but an “artificially intelligent” being, an AI robot, oddly resembling his late wife Allison (Morgan Voellger).

English: IBM's Watson computer, Yorktown Heigh...

English: IBM’s Watson computer, Yorktown Heights, NY (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you think that it might be too far fetched, think again.  Sometime back, IBM’s AI computer, Watson made history when it appeared on Jeopardy, the popular game show beat most of the contestants http://bit.ly/JOZmwH .  Watson is a computer system, capable of answering questions posed in natural language.  This is no small feat.  Human language is infinitely complex.  That alone makes for a huge challenge in building an artificially intelligent, interactive being.  Puns, idioms, and other contextual expressions, and even the tone of voice http://bit.ly/17FvMmW  and a pause at a different place in a sentence, can completely alter the meaning.  In medicine, AI computer like Watson is expected learn the nuances of the language to offer complex diagnosis, and even indicate the level of confidence it has in the diagnosis offered.

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms ...

ASIMO uses sensors and intelligent algorithms to avoid obstacles and navigate stairs. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In “Build”, Kip’s AI being is keenly aware of her identity “16 terabytes of data”.  But she is far superior than any ordinary machine and he has built it in human avatar.  The robot takes on Allison’s personality, even the loneliness Allison experienced when she was married to Kip and Kip was occupied with his gaming venture.  This AI machine made out of code is incredibly smart (beats Kip in the word game they play), is intuitive and curious, and even talks about her dreams.  When Will discovers Kip’s secret AI being, he is both astounded and concerned that Kip will forever stay a prisoner of his home, as long as he has the companionship offered by the robot.  Along with this ulterior motive, Will also has fond memories of Allison and is mesmerized by Allison-like-robot.

This is not stuff of idle imagination.  Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have all said that we should be concerned about the future of artificial intelligence.  Louis Del Monte, an entrepreneur, has said that some day, machines could surpass humans and could become the most dominant species, and Hawking has said that machines could eventually “outsmart financial markets” and “out-invent human researchers”.  Days may not be far when machines will fulfill the roles of companions and caregivers.

While it is challenging to imagine the future, this production is tackling the challenges of reproducing that “future” on stage.  It takes the audience into the fascinating world of video gaming as Will and Kip work on deliverables, cleaning out bugs, and packet drops.  Then with the help of high tech design and lighting, the audience is introduced to the AI robot.  Video designer, Nick Kumamoto has worked wonders with some scattered computer screens and lighting.  While AI robot appears caring and concerned, and seems to be a perfect companion, the story revolves around three human beings, one who has passed away, leaving behind memories, and two friends who struggle through their growth and transformation, to keep the ties that brought them together in the first place; gaming, innovation, and their urge to “build” something, in the heart of Silicon Valley.  “Build” will be running at CityLights in San Jose, till February 22, 2015.  For tickets, go to www.cltc.org

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Andhera Hone Tak – (Wait Until Dark) – Hindi Play Review


NAATAK company has exceeded all expectations in its production of “Andhera Hone Tak”, hindi version of Frederick Knott’s classic thriller, “Wait Until Dark”.  The play is performed with English subtitles projected above the stage, and that makes it a must-see play, for a wider range of  audience.

Stage versions of thrillers are rare because suspense and elements of a thriller, including murder, robbery etc. are hard to create on stage.  Producer Surender Singh has made a bold attempt in bringing this production and the suspense filled thriller does not disappoint on any count.  Clearly, Mukund Marathe has once again proved that he is simply one of the most brilliant directors.

Suneeta Saxena (Sareeka Malhotra) is a housewife, who is also blind, and is married to Sameer Saxena (Puneet) and they live in Shivaji Park, Mumbai.  Sameer becomes an innocent transporter of a doll stuffed with contraband, when he brought it home, at the request of a woman, who is now surfaced as dead.  Soon thereafter, Sameer is traveling again for business and Suneeta becomes target of three con-men, looking for heroin hidden in a doll.  The doll is nowhere to be found because unbeknownst to anyone, a little girl, Aneesha, living in the apartment upstairs, has stolen the doll. The trio play initially manage to get Suneeta worried that her husband will be suspected of murdering the woman and the only way to protect him would be to enable them to have the possession of the doll.

Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sareeka Malhotra’s performance as a blind heroine, is brilliant, both vulnerable and at the same time courageous and determined.  The three con men, played by Varun Dua, Sanjay Apte, and Amit Sharma are so good at being bad that their performance holds you at the edge of your seats.  Aneesha Nema, the little child star gives a phenomenal performance as a bratty but precocious kid.  The set design is superb, easy for a supposedly blind person to navigate and yet complex for her to figure out the movements of the intruders.  Juhi Mohan has done a great job with lights, helping create the perfect “dark”, that would give Suneeta an edge against the intruders.

Every theater season, I give my recommendation of a “must-watch play of the season” from among South Bay Theater companies, including (NAATAK – www,naatak.org, CityLights – http://www.cltc.org, San Jose Stage – http://www.thestage.org, Theatreworks – http://www.theatreworks.org, EnActe Arts – http://www.enacte.org etc.) and this season, unequivocally, I recommend NAATAK’s “Andhera Hone Tak”, as the “must-watch play of the season”.  While the play is performed in Hindi, the English sub-titles, projected above the stage, make it easy for all to enjoy.  So remember, you don’t need to understand Hindi to enjoy the suspense, heart stopping tension, spooky lighting, and climactic end, all delivered by flawless performance, in real time.

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