Pain Is Universal

Karel Capeks Robots besmirches the Garage Theatres good name

Courtesy the Garage TheatreThe reason you've probably never heard of Karel Capek or his play, R.U.R.orRossum'sUniversalRobots, is simple: it's not very good. The subject, the clash between communism, socialism and fascism in 1920s Europe, could make it awfully important and good—but not the way it's handled. The plot, while apparently groundbreaking in its day, 1923, (moneygrubbing capitalists create robots who wind up taking over the world), is numbingly unimaginative and scientifically implausible post-Brave NewWorld, TheMatrixand GetSmart's Hymie the Robot.

Worse is Capek's script, or at least this translation. It's windy, muddled and unintentionally goofy, and director Jamie Sweet should have taken a sledgehammer or a delete key to it—it plods on for more than two and a half hours. I got through most of it, but a prior commitment necessitated my exit before the last scene; my sincere apologies to any offended actors.

We find ourselves on an island dominated by the factory where, through clumsily explained genetic engineering, human managers create Rossum's Universal Robots. These synthetic beings sound and look human, yet lack all feeling and independent thinking. Spurred on by an idealistic woman who is saddened that robots have no soul, a lovelorn scientist begins tweaking the robotic recipe—turning our robots from perfect workers into vengeful monsters out to destroy humanity. But, just like the old scientist Rossum who first tried to one-up divine design by creating a perfect class of tireless workers, the victorious robots find that the crown sits heavy even on their metallic heads.

The robots—particularly Jeff Kriese, who plays their intensely angry ringleader—are by far this production's best feature. Unfortunately, they're onstage a fraction of the time compared with their human managers, who come off as unbearably cartoonish—an unwieldy mix of clownish adult sweathogs and aristocratic National Geographic Society members. (The next person who utters, in sincerity, the phrases "by Jove" or "my good lads" should be executed.)

This play, and this production, stinks. But this company—the Garage Theatre Company—doesn't. It's a talented, passionate collective of thespians who, after years of roving, have finally found their own home. They need your support. So do them and yourself a favor: mail them $15, skip this play and hope the next one isn't a dud.

ROSSUM'S UNIVERSAL ROBOTS, THE GARAGE THEATRE, 251 E. 7TH ST., LONG BEACH, (562) 433-8337. OPENS FRI. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M. THROUGH MAY 21. $12-$15.

 
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