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A CurtainUp Review
The play opens up with the Professor (Mia Katigbak) delivering a lecture on the history of typography. From the ancient hieroglyphs scratched on cave walls to books written by scribes' quills, and from Gutenberg's type press to computer screens and laser printers, the Professor (whose name is Lorraine Wexler) walks us though the progress of the printed word, dissecting fonts and letters into strokes and serifs. As the play is set during what the author calls the near future, the Professor directs her sequence of presentation slides with a slight movement of a thumb through the air instead of pushing a button, thus creating an interesting effect of a human-computer symbiosis, which we are probably indeed close to in real life.
But the Professor is far from admiring the great achievements of modern civilization. She is quite bitter about a few things: no one holds pen to paper anymore and books are as obsolete as the white pages and black ink of which they are comprised . Everything is typed. Everything is computerized. Every thought, emotion and piece of information created by mankind is available in cyber form as a part of a global library. The Company that owns, censures and edits the easily accessible, utterly comprehensive and instantly searchable Great Collection thus dictates what people can read, know and think. As we learn that Lorraine's husband has been missing ever since he dared to openly oppose The Great Collection, it's clear that Dissention isn't tolerated too well and facts that occasionally slip off Lorraine's tongue set us wondering about our own bright electronic future.
Entering a dangerous path, the Professor presents her audience with a white sheet of paper, and even a book. These artifacts from the past set her audience agog and aghast, and have us ponder whether they are even legal to own or safe to display in public. But then Lorraine truly jumps the rail as she mentions the Zero Drive, the original compilation of information which can be used to restore The Great Collection to its pure unadulterated condition.
An excellent actress, Mia Katigbak's is compelling and engaging to the point where we are almost ready to accept Futura as a one-woman play — until the lights suddenly go off, wiping the Professor's image from the stage and her font samples from the screen. We can tell she is being kidnapped, but we can't see by whom. She yells "Lights! Security!," But the lights don't come up and no one comes to her rescue.
When we can see again, we meet the kidnappers who make a small rundown shack their home. Grace (Angela Lin) is a young but brutal sociopathic woman. Gash (Christopher Larkin) is a brilliant ex-student, who secretly admires the Professor and wishes she would teach him to hold a pen, (he even kept the book she had shown at her lecture.) They take orders from Edward, who demands to know where the Professor is hiding the Zero Drive.
Lorraine, blindfolded but not broken, refuses to part with the information, despite her captors' seemingly noble intentions of recreating The Great Collection back to its original state. Perhaps she is simply being an obstinate elderly woman, or perhaps she has her ownulterior motives, but her stubbornness begins to infuriate the crew, who are running on a countdown. Gash, reluctant to pursue harsher methods of investigation aske Edwin "What if she doesn't know where it is?", Edwin has no such doubts and declares "she not only knows, she has it" and Grace is more willing to do anything. Neither prevails because things suddenly take an unexpected turn.
Although the premise is intriguing, the play does lose its level of intensity at times, partially because Grace doesn't appear to be a very convincing psychopath, and partially because Edwin's speeches about fixing the dreadful status quo lack a rebl's passion. As a result we never work up enough contempt and rancor toward Grace or anxiety about Edward's ideas. Despite well-done lighting and sound effects, this multi-media play is very much a thinking journey, yet it leaves us wishing for a more convincing and harmonious presentation as well as a better explanation for a few of the lose ends that never get explained.
Lorraine and Gash do make a very strong duo, which helps to maintain the play's strengths . When Lorraine fulfills Gash's penmanship wish, we are truly touched as she places a pen in between Gash's stiff fingers and holds his hand while he learns to scribblewords on a rumpled piece of paper. With that simple act, Mia Katigbak and Christopher Larkin, who is the second strongest actor in the play, deliver the emotional turmoil of the not-so-distant future they live in, as well as the faint hope that mankind can find its way back to the days of informational freedom, be it by the means of electronic warfare, the mysterious Zero Drive, or one script letter at a time.