Here’s what you can expect in the year 2040, according to Judy, a new play by Max Posner, now at the New Ohio Theatre. People will be glued to their eerily glowing terminals, conversing, stalking each other, possibly trading lives, and sometimes doing volunteer work in far-off lands via remote connection. Web dating will replace actual sex — or just make it really weird when actual sex happens. Long-term relationships will be consecrated by arranging synchronized deaths for a premium fee. “We’ve created our own successors — machines,” says the middle-aged Timothy (Danny Wolohan), quoting his ex, who has walked out on him and their daughter Eloise (Frenie Acoba) but still dominates his thoughts.
Actually, delete that — as these future Americans say whenever they want to change their tune. Posner’s drama is not all creepy and dystopian. Despite these technological prophecies, Posner wants his play to demonstrate that some all-too-human impulses will never be stamped out, not even when we’ve readily acceded to “The System” with all our data. Angsty teens will still write poetry, as Eloise does. Fathers and mothers will fret over and dote on their adolescents, and their kids will not understand them. Family anxieties will always prevail, even if the shape and form of family life changes; Timothy calls upon his sisters Tara (Birgit Huppuch) and Kris (Deirdre O’Connell) for advice and support, yet bristles at their interference. And people will always suffer, victims of circumstance — like the troubled Kris, one of the few survivors of “1/16,” a terrorist attack on yoga practitioners. The mores and means of human ties may change, Judy seems to say, but the need for love and understanding never will.
Posner’s play attempts imaginative leaps into our emotional future but gets caught between the hard surfaces of futurism and a surprisingly soft psychological core. One thing that may never transform 25 years hence is the American domestic drama and its reliance on confessional monologues and oversharing. Timothy, the central character here, positively hungers for connection with his daughter and her vanished mother. Wolohan plays the struggling dad’s desperation for all it’s worth, showing how fear and isolation motivate his antics — like his irritating habit of badgering everyone in conversation. Yet the character’s problematic; like everyone else in this subterranean clan, he never stops talking, shutting us out rather than reeling us in.
In his production for the Page 73 company, director Ken Rus Schmoll evokes the siblings’ tangled lives by having them share the unit set — a bleak, gray-walled, gray-carpeted basement rec room that serves each household in shifting scenes. The staging feels claustrophobic and sometimes awkward; perhaps cleaner, more concrete use of space would support a play with more than its share of messy abstractions — role-playing games, séances summoning ancestors, conversations that span virtual space as well as landing on the couch.
The second half wanders in search of narrative traction, but the play provides some relief in late scenes when the family actually gathers in one (non-virtual) location to flop on the sofa and talk to each other about the lost past. By design, it’s the sole scene where the brother and sisters stop their unrelenting banter and open up. But this warm ending leaves you wondering why we had to endure so many unanchored thoughts to make us feel that all’s right with the world when one accepts the past and worries less about the future.
By Max Posner
New Ohio Theatre
154 Christopher Street, Suite 1E