A spaceship. A journey to an unmarked planet. A human captain and his cyborg minion, hurtling together into the unknown. And get this: They’re both played by the same movie actor. High concept, right? Yes and no. Christopher Shinn’s Picked at the Vineyard Theatre concerns an actor plucked from guest-star obscurity to play the leads in a new science-fiction blockbuster. But as Shinn chooses to focus on deep feelings rather than deep space, no androids or meteors actually appear.
Shinn hones in on Kevin (Michael Stahl-David), a young actor with a naïve preoccupation with authenticity. He’s selected by writer-director John (Mark Blum) to feature in a new flick, which John will base on Kevin’s internal conflicts, revealed via neuro-imaging. John initially wants Kevin to take on both leads, but eventually hires Nick (Tom Lipinski) as his robot nemesis.
Shinn has a lot he wants to discuss—the burdens of fame, the volatility of the self—but little of it comes through very clearly. His gift—a great one—is for a laserlike concentration on characters’ emotions, which Kevin doesn’t entirely deserve. Stahl-David is handsome and plausible, but a shallow character arc and earnest lines such as “I just—try to be truthful” don’t help matters.
At times, the script threatens to turn pulpier, hinting at passion, betrayal, and actual science fiction, but Shinn and Michael Wilson, who provides the stately direction, render the play strangely devoid of event. It centers on what Kevin isn’t doing—booking work, having sex, having the least bit of fun. As we trudge along this via negativa, the play’s slow burn eventually sputters out. Where’s a malevolent android when you need one?