All Charged Up, No Place to Go

Maybe it's because it's all becoming so terribly true, or maybe because after Blade Runner, everything else seems ready for the Sci Fi Channel, but post-apocalyptic, technology-run-amok stories have run their course, met their Armageddon. Entropy rules the genre. Which is why Eric Kaiser's play Chargeis such a welcome surprise.

An unsettling black comedy, Chargesucceeds despite its cyberworld setting because of its stellar cast and Michael Serna's directorial vision. The 90-minute play is laid across two tracks—a dark vision of a world in which computers have become catheters of human consciousness, and a goofy satire of that same cyber-oriented message.

Serna plays it reckless. Chargecould easily veer toward the melodramatic or the completely comic. But Serna skillfully blends both strains by playing every moment real, whether comic or serious, overcoming the fact that Kaiser's play isn't really much of a play.

We find ourselves in a different but eerily recognizable world "many years after the sky has spoiled." Our two main characters, George (Serna) and Martha (a very gifted Kristina Leach) never get out of bed. Wearing matching gray shirts and checkered pajama bottoms, they spend their lives feverishly tapping into computer keyboards and wearing virtual-reality helmets. They leave their cyber cocoons only periodically for halting attempts at verbal communication and to command their synthetic servants, Gigi (a well-drawn Darcy Blakesley) and Pierre (a strong Trevor Von Hodgkins).

The play is very simple. Martha yearns for genuine human connection. She can't find it. George is a virtual-reality gaming addict and is no help to Martha. She programs Gigi and Pierre to help her save characters she once saw in a film about gang violence in South-Central Los Angeles, but, of course, those characters are merely cybercreations now. It's only after a chiclets-hawking beggar slips through the huge metal door that seals her chamber from the spoiled outside world that Martha ever finds true human connection, and it's not quite what she was looking for.

Serna and his very talented colleagues help fill the gaps in Kaiser's play—its pedestrian structure, underdeveloped ideas and too-cute references (from Beckett's End Gameto Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?). It's not that Kaiser's message isn't relevant; it's just that it has been said so many times before that this entire genre seems a cliché, whether it's explored in film, in books or on the stage (we'll absolve Radiohead's auditory exploration because, well, they rock).

And that's a drag because if you get right down to it, there are few things more alarming than impending environmental catastrophe or more depressing than a world in which communicating with a complete stranger on the other side of the world is only a mouse click away, but communicating with the person next to us in bed remains so difficult.

Oops, gotta go. I've got mail. . . .

Charge at Six Chairs & a Couple of Artists Theatre, 1409 E. 4th St., Long Beach, (310) 226-7075. In repertory, so call for exact days. Through May 27. $8-$10.

 
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