Posts Tagged George Psarras

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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Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War – Play Review


In World Premiere of “Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War“, at CityLights Theater in San Jose, through telling of the story of the historic event that occurred in December 1914, both the mindlessness of war and the mindfulness of peace, become abundantly evident.   Playwrights Jeffrey Bracco and Kit Wilder have made this historic story personal, by telling it through four main characters, George Krieger (Max Tachis), the German patriotic soldier, fighting for honor, glory, and fatherland; Anna Friedmann (Cailin Papp), the German nurse who questions the wisdom of war; Tommy Williams (Drew Benjamin) English poet who is compelled to go to war by parental pressure and also pulled to write and pulled by his love for his young wife and by his friendship with Krieger; and Maggie Williams (Allison Meneley), young wife of Tommy who encourages him to write and waits for his return from war.

A little piece of history along with the events in the play

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predomi...

For most of World War I Allied Forces, predominantly those of France and the British Empire, were stalled at trenches on the Western Front. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This history was also expertly and succinctly narrated at the  beginning of the play.  The world was polarized and battle lines were drawn, long before the actual event that ignited the region, the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in June, 1014.   As Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, Russia (Serbian ally) mobilized its military.  Like a game of dominoes, one by one the countries were pressured or pulled into the war, as Germany declared war on Russia, France, and Belgium; Britain declared war on Germany; soon thereafter, Japan, Turkey, and the Ottoman Empire entered the fight; and ultimately US entered the war in 1917.  Ultimately, 70 million military personnel were mobilized.

While the obsession of the generals is with moving the pushpins on a map, war has an entirely different impact on the soldiers, in the trenches.  As the characters recount, it was widely believed by common people that the “Great War” would be over within a period of months, if not sooner.  Everyone expected their loved ones to be home  by Christmas.  Then Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary halt in fighting for the celebration of Christmas, in December 1914, but the warring countries refused to create any official cease-fire.  In fact, the generals declared penalties for what they considered amounted to fraternizing with the enemies.

A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, t...

A cross, left near Ieper in Belgium in 1999, to celebrate the site of the Christmas Truce during the First World War in 1914. The text reads: 1914 – The Khaki Chum’s Christmas Truce – 1999 – 85 Years – Lest We Forget. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the four years that the world was at war, several deadly battles were fought.  Nearly 27,000 French troops were killed in a single day, in the Battle of the Frontiers, in August, 1914.  In the battle of Verdun in 1916, over one million soldiers were wounded or killed.  In the end, more than 9 million soldiers and over 7 million civilians died, as a result of this “Great War”, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in history.  It is then all the more remarkable that in the midst of the most deadly period of fighting, there was a brief period of calm, friendship, and camaraderie, moments of hope, reflection, and humanity.

This was a one time event. All future attempts to halt the fighting were squashed by generals’ threats of disciplinary action.  It is even more astonishing that this period of calm emerged spontaneously, in the trenches.  Those who were there, not to reason why, but to do and die, disobeyed orders, and for a brief shining period in history, humanity prevailed.   The soldiers declared their own truce; they began singing Christmas carols to each other across the enemy lines.  Entirely a different domino effect was observed, as soldiers in various places, crossed the no man’s land, and shook hands with the enemy soldiers and exchanged presents of cigarettes, plum puddings and beef jerkey and sang carols.  Some soldiers even used this short period of “truce” to retrieve bodies of their comrades, from the no man’s land, between the enemy battle lines.

It is the brilliance of Jeffrey Bracco and Kit Wilder, in how this remarkable historical event is captured and reproduced on stage, in “Truce: A Christmas Wish from the Great War”.  After deep research and from various documents and anecdotes, Bracco and Wilder put together the script.  Ron Gasparinetti created the scenic design to conjure up images of the long ago war, Jane Lambert provided the costume design and Nick Kumamoto provided lighting and video projection to keep the time and place real.  George Psarras composed music from popular WWI songs.  (One popular song “pack up your troubles in your old kit bag” was one of the biggest hits of the Great War time).

This is truly a must-watch play of this theater season, and it beautifully captures the spirit of the holiday season.   Truce will be running at CityLights Theater in San Jose, through December 21, 2014.  For tickets, go to www.cltc.org .

In the aftermath of the #FergusonDecision, this respite is exactly what we need.  Let us call “truce” and renew commitment to create conditions of

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Spacebar – a Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman —- Play Review


Spacebar – a Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman

Kudos, City Lights, for bringing Spacebar by Kyle Sugarman, on stage.  Jeremy Helgeson is absolutely superb, as Kyle Sugarman, a 16 year old with aspiration of becoming a Broadway playwright.   The playwright Michael Mitnick, is graduate of the Yale School of Drama.  Perhaps in Spacebar, there is some touch of autobiography?

Kyle Sugarman’s dad (played by brilliant Jeff Kramer), delivers a monologue, in the opening scene, that is irreverent, shocking, and hysterically funny.  In one short speech, he delivers non-sugar coated reality of events to his four year old, that one hopes, is beyond a child’s level of comprehension.  As the play progresses, it becomes apparent that everything the child (who is now a young man) aspires for and becomes, is perhaps triggered by those events.  There is a deeply touching, just tragic enough to constantly tug at your heart strings kind of undertone, to the play, that is otherwise quite funny.                                                                                                              SpacebarAd

In a cover letter addressed to Broadway, Sugarman explains his script and as he reads the letter aloud, the script plays out beside him.  Captain Iditarod (played by Jeff Kramer), attired in lighted space suit, owns a bar in outer space, several thousand years into the future, and he serves FutureBeer to his friend, Mortimer Pip (played by Kieth C. Marshall), who engages in no-holds bar profanities.  Suddenly, there on the edge of black hole, lands another space vessel and descends beautiful Esmerelda Happenstance (Morgan Voellger), with her Playboy, millionaire fiancée (George Psarras).  (The cast in this play is excellent and loved both Voellger and Psarras.)  Amidst all the comedy of events, there is a short tragic saga of Captain Iditarod’s long lost daughter and how he plans to find her.

When Sugarman does not receive the response he desired, from Broadway, at the insistence of his girl friend, also superbly played by Adrienne Walters, he escapes to New York, to personally make a case about his play, to Broadway.  But there is more.  Kyle not only wants his play produced on Broadway but he wants it heralded by a big bill board, precisely on the corner of 46th and Broadway.  Precisely why?  Didn’t I say, there is a tragic undertone, in this part comedy, part drama, part futuristic production?  As Kyle Sugarman says, “Spacebar is the story of humanity.  Spacebar is not about the space key on a computer keyboard.”

Executive Artistic Director Lisa Mallette, Associate Artistic Director, Kit Wilder, Technical Director Ron Gasparinetti, and Stage Manager, Michelle Marko deserve big kudos for beautiful stage design and lighting.  Costumes by Erin Haney and lighting by Nick Kumamoto, brilliantly complement the futuristic theme.

Spacebar is playing at City Lights Theater, in San Jose.  For more information and tickets, go to www.cltc.org .

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