Archive for September 5th, 2019

Review – Room Service – Two Right Feet at the Bread and Roses Theater

September 5, 2019

It’s been a good summer for plays about robots in my book – first Space Age Love Songs,
and now this charming tale about data gone wild set in a much nearer future. Well, the days when having a robot that perfectly looks like a human being are probably very far off; but the underlying premise of this play, that of the amount of knowledge available about individuals in the cybersphere and what could be done with it, seems like a story that really is only about two years further off than right now.

Science fiction is often used as a way to examine social issues by looking at potential outcomes from a more distant viewpoint. In this case, Max has been sent to a town not far from where he lives to do a week on site, for reasons nobody cares about; what matters is that when he walks into his hotel room, he is greeted by a service robot, Zahra, who is FAR more knowledgeable about his desires than Max is comfortable with. Is he eating properly? Zahra thinks not, based on CCTV recordings of Max going to MacDonalds and having late night kebabs. Can she be sure? Well, yes, by doing a chemical analysis of his poo. And how does Richard find out this has happened? By discovering that his morning fry up has been replaced with meusli by the oh-so-concerned-for-the-guest Zahra. Some of the easy jokes are gotten out of the way quickly (Zahra talking is overheard by Max’s wife), some of the easier jokes are completely avoided (to my ABSOLUTE joy Max did not try to get fresh with Zahra, constantly seeing her as simply a robot – easily, I think, represented by just a voice but far more compelling for us as an audience to have Emma Stannard, with her glorious glow in the dark pink hair, to watch _being_ a robot), but the set up for simple philosophy gets pushed further and winds up developing into quite a story line.

You see, not trying to hump robots aside, Max is very human in being not particularly logical, and in being impulsive, and in being ruled by chemicals and memories and inadequate data in a way that Zahra is not. This leads to him doing things, in one mere week, that look likely to mess his life up but good. And can Zahra help under her terms and conditions, as signed when Max went onto the webiste?

As a full length yet short show, I found this show both emotionally compelling and an example of damned fine story telling, with the tousle-haired Andrew Mullan believable as a young businessman settling down somewhat awkwardly into fatherhood, and the expressionless (yet fully controlled in a perfectly “I’m a robot way”) Stannard just deliciously smooth and, who would think it, sympathetic as the collection of bits and data that really just wants to make sure that her client is well taken care of. It was a rare and perfect bit of science fiction theater that asked some very timely questions about how we are living today and wrapped it all up in a tight little narrative package that absolutely took us somewhere with feelings – even if robots aren’t meant to have them, we most certainly are, and I did. It’s only on for a few more days, but make the trek down to the Bread and Roses, it’s well worth the effort.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Tuesday, September 3, 2019. It continues through Saturday September 7.)