As you might guess from the knowing title, THE (curious case of the) WATSON INTELLIGENCE is a good example of a certain academic penchant in new American playwriting. Toggling between eras, ruminating on history’s footnotes, and offering a free pastiche of real and imagined circumstances to demonstrate its central idea, Watson Intelligence can feel more like a writer’s thesis than a drama. Through time travel, playwright Madeleine George reflects on how we catch ourselves idealizing our supposedly supportive partners, forming patterns of trust and dependence that help explain our spooky emotional reliance on technology today.
Watson Intelligence contemplates several Watsons from modern cultural history, all played with dexterity by John Ellison Conlee. There’s Watson the deerstalker-hatted crony to Sherlock Holmes; there’s the Watson who was famously summoned into the next room by Alexander Graham Bell via his newly invented telephone; and there’s Watson the IBM supercomputer, which defeated human contestants to become Jeopardy champ. George adds a fictional Watson, too: a lovelorn tech-support guy who struggles to figure out what kind of world he’s living in. It’s a collage strategy that paid off in Ariana Reines’s poetic 2009 play Telephone, but here, despite a nice theme and a crisp production directed by Leigh Silverman, there’s ultimately not enough theater within the narratives. The evening yields a series of fragmented musings, playful and purposeful but not finally satisfying as a play.