The next time you’re tempted to curse your just-crashed computer or give your microwave a good thwacking, think again. They could be watching. In the pleasantly eccentric and unexpectedly poignant Samuel and Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, at the Brick, writers Marc Bovino and Joe Curnutte offer an alternate world history in which technology has long since turned against us. Sometime in 1959, intelligent machines with laser-beam eyes and giant claws suddenly emerged out of the earth and destroyed all of North America, rendering it utterly uninhabitable.
We learn these extraordinary facts via a kitsch radio program called The At Home Field Guide, broadcast live from a decrepit station in Downtown Irkutsk. A sort of Prairie Home Companion for the end times, the show features songs, stories, and ads for Mikhail House coffee. But even as we watch and listen to the cheery banter, there are ominous suggestions that the robot threat continues. The lights dim, electromagnetic pulses disturb the transmission, no one calls in to answer the trivia question. Through it all, the host (Curnutte) and his cohorts—songstress Anastasia Volinski (Stephanie Wright Thompson), guitarist Alexei “Tumbleweed” Petrovya (Michael Dalto), and Dr. Mischa Romanav (Bovino)—soldier on, crooning “Happy Trails” and providing new installments of the serial that gives the play its title.
On a single set cluttered with battered wood furniture and outdated electronics, director Lila Neugebauer and her cast effectively conjure a whole universe in just over an hour. The action is minimal, with characters approaching and receding from a series of microphones, but the acting is dynamic and the Soviet accents are quite credible. Curnutte, with his all-Siberian good looks, is a charmer, and Wright Thompson pleases as the acerbic Anastasia. As disaster looms, we find, surprisingly, that we’ve come to believe in these unlikely characters and care for them. And the final monologue, delivered by Dalto in untranslated Russian, is strangely moving. Perhaps it might even move some of us to attempt a friendlier relationship with technology. Why not go home and give your electric toothbrush a hug?