Written as though playwright Joseph Hullett had recently awakened from a long slumber to find a world driven mad by—AAAGH!—computers, Wish You Were Here is a lunkheaded yarn about one Abel Joiner (John Childers), a loyal factory employee who loses his job to a computerized machine on Christmas Day. Hullett seems to have intended a populist homage to some imagined golden era of the American working stiff as he collides head-on with the cold, calculating digits of a new age.
When Elmer Rice wrote The Adding Machine, this was a fresh idea. But that was 76 years ago, suggesting that Hullett fell asleep in 1923. His writing certainly is of another time—and a nightmare of missed opportunities. The most damning blunder is Joiner himself, a self-described "man of hands" whose automated replacement forms the core of the play. One obvious choice would be to make Joiner a skilled craftsman whose abrupt irrelevance gives symbolic pathos to the passing age he represents. Instead, Hullett makes Joiner a yokel who shovels shit—literally—at the local fertilizer plant. Joiner's not a "man of hands"; he's a moron. Overall too self-consciously ham-fisted for clever satire (the fertilizer plant is called Bulloni; a manic-depressive character is named Upton Downer, etc.) and too bereft of contemporary insight for sociopolitical commentary, Wish lurches about aimlessly like some loony tune of obsolescence, as if Death of a Salesmanwere written for Homer Simpson.
Hullett's direction doesn't help. Oblivious to such details as pace, shading and building a scene, he shackles his unfortunate cast to Jim Books' uninspired set with two options: sit and talk or stand and talk. If only, amidst all this yakking, he had given them something fresh and relevant to say.
Wish You Were Here at the Chance Theater, 5576 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-3033. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. $15-$20.