Perhaps because the world seems increasingly gloomy these days, the loud and worried headlines crowding newspapers have often stressed the downside of technology’s supposedly bright promise. More and more, focus has been put on the negative potential for technology to undermine a future it’s been assumed to improve.
Among folks currently gathering with brows deeply furrowed is director-choreography Chase Brock, whose major Broadway credit to date is the misguided Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (no fault of his, to be sure) and whose major and more recent off-Broadway credit is the now-Broadway-bound Be More Chill, for which he’s created several music-video-aware routines.
The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes, at the Beckett, is what Brock calls his look at the deleterious possibilities of things like robots (more commonly dubbed bots nowadays?) and artificial intelligence. He presents the 70-minute piece as an addition to The Chase Brock Experience, the Brooklyn-based group he founded in 2007 and for which he has now crafted 31 dances.
Of them, I’ll own up that this is the only one I’ve seen. and as a result of which I ought immediately to say I’d like to see earlier entries and whatever Brock comes up with next for his troupe and next after that. He’s clearly an expert choreographer with a keen eye for performers with modern dance and musical comedy backgrounds and capabilities. For those skills, he’s been wisely sought by producers for works (see above), where he’s then been held to limited opportunities.
With The Chase Brock Experience, he clearly offers himself limitless opportunities. For The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes, however, excitement has to be tempered. Brock seems to be jumping on the newly speeding woe-is-technology bandwagon, but he’s doing so with a story that’s hardly new. The annals are full of warnings about fooling around with mother nature, with fear about where providing robots with intelligence and emotions (or restricting emotions from them) could have unpleasant repercussions. Science fiction in books and screen and television scripts abounds with bots and cyborgs menacing humanity.
So, something familiar happens when—in Eric Dietz’s scenario and to his bouncingly frenetic score—Oliver (Spencer Ramirez) enters to instantly impressive staccato movements and begins engineering who-knows-what, while Alex Basco Koch’s upstage projections go electronic.
Oliver isn’t an astronaut on the verge of soaring into space, as I initially thought, because within a few minutes he introduces a couple of bots (Amber Barbee Pickens, James Koroni), who go through Coppelia-familiar motions. He’s inventing two pliant machines, but then he brings on the much more human title bot, the girl with the alkaline eyes (Yukiko Kashikii).
That’s when anyone with the slightest grasp of stage savvy knows exactly where Dietz is going. At the same time, the show-wise spectator is sporadically bamboozled about what’s happening while heading to its obvious conclusion.
A man in an out-of-press dark suit, Troy (Travante S. Baker), joins Oliver, although exactly who Troy is and what he represents is uncertain. There were a few moments when Oliver and the alkaline-eyes girl bite an apple Troy hands over. Maybe Brock and Dietz are pawning off a garden of Eden allegory with Oliver and the Girl as Adam and Eve and Troy as the snake.
Perhaps yes for a fun interlude, perhaps no. That allusion ends fast. There’s a street scene with, among other features, a woman pulled around by an invisible dog on a leach (Amber Barbee Pickens). There are other distractions, all leading up to the outcome dictated by technology’s sinister inevitability.
As this eventuates, Dietz does have one twist up his sleeve involving Oliver that, I think (maybe I’m wrong), has to do with the plot being a flashback. Not that it really matters, once a repeated dictum that goes something like, “A robot must not harm a human” slowly loses its “not.” And Brock and Dietz unnecessarily tubthump what they hope no one is missing.
All the while spectators wait for what they’re expecting to occur, Brock does keep his dancers catching the eye, especially Ramirez and Kashiki, as they cavort on Jason Sherwood’s economic set. (All are dressed imaginatively by Loren Shaw under Brian Tovar’s predominantly somber lighting design.)
Dietz catches the ear with his percolating music, as arranged by Rob Berman, who’s at the piano, with Amy Kang on cello and Arthur Moeller on violin (or, when prerecorded music is played, Caroline Drexler and Robin Zeh are on violin).
In a December 2017 Psychology Today column, Paul Thagard wrote, “One of the main concerns about the possibility of fully intelligent and independent robots is that they may act only in their own interests.” It’s almost as if Brock read the column and decided to set it dancing. If only he—and Dietz—hadn’t done so quite as predictably.
The Girl With the Alkaline Eyes opened December 30, 2018, at the Beckett and runs through January 13, 2019.. Tickets and information: chasebrockexperience.com