Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Black and White and Read All Over

November 10, 2010

Bonita Friedericy in futura Photo: Ed Krieger/Boston Court 2010

The Theater at Boston Court in Pasadena is wrapping up a notable year this weekend with the final performances of Jordan Harrison’s new play, futura. It’s the fourth premiere in a row for Pasadena’s most adventurous theater company who seems to be expanding under the artistic direction of Michael Michetti and Jessica Kubzansky as quickly as other companies are shrinking in today’s rocky waters. And while I’ve not been completely sold on every minute of every show from this year, there is no lack of ambition in anything this company puts on and everything that hits this Pasadena stage looks like a million bucks.

Harrison’s futura is no exception and for my money it’s probably the best of the plays Boston Court has mounted this year. That’s not to say it’s without problems, but it starts with an engaging and good idea and manages to build on it. The title is a reference to the type font designed by Paul Renner in 1927. The play starts with a long monologue in the form of a course lecture delivered by the professor, the play’s main character, played by Bonita Friedericy. I know it sounds like a non-starter. But it’s a surprisingly effective device thanks to Friedericy’s on target vision of academia and a script that manages to be suggestive enough of a larger narrative without becoming more than it should be. It’s through this introduction that the audience learns what it needs to know about the history of typography and what has led up to this point in the somewhat distant future where books are banned on environmental grounds and an evil corporation is making a play for the control of all collective knowledge. It’s a dystopian vision that plays on the bourgeois fears that printed material is disappearing in favor of a shared, changeable digital experience. True, Harrison may be making a mountain out of a molehill, but the professor sucks you in just like the other students in her class with a tale of the politics of how we write with physical pen to physical paper.

From here the play gets a little dicier over a number of scenes where terrorists and subterfuge raise their heads in a rather compressed and convoluted sequence of events. It’s the kind of thing that gets a little hard to accept even within the context of a futuristic science fiction storyline. Things change fast and you’re at the conclusion of this quick 90 minutes wondering how all of it came together. Still despite the rapid jumps in narrative and logic, there are a lot of interesting ideas running around in the subtext of futura and under director Jessica Kubzansky, the cast plunges into them headfirst with an amazing clarity and economy. Even at its most paranoid, futura manages to keep you interested and thinking. The current run has been extended for another weekend in Pasadena through the 14th and is worth seeing.


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