Tiny Dynamite’s blurb about G.W. Watson’s eerie hourlong science-fiction drama Perfect Blue announces, “Two actors, two countries, one live internet connection.” But that only describes the play’s performance gimmick. The technology merits a few explanatory pages in the program, but the script’s personalities and issues are much more compelling than this device.
A dangerous game
In the near future, climate change runs amok as corporations vie for ecological control and the right to "fix" the environment. Married scientists Carys (Emma Gibson) and Michael (Harry Smith) are divided by the Atlantic Ocean, but even more by conflicting philosophies. Carys — live in the theater — believes she is saving the world with supercorp iGenus, replacing extinct species with genetically customized new creatures that will restore ecological balance. What could go wrong?
Michael fears Carys is playing God, her “corporate Babylon” saving nature by destroying it. Both character and actor are in England, Skyping from a farmhouse while living with their unseen son Nathan and nurturing a community orchard to provide food “by the people, for the people.”
In a series of short TED Talk-like lectures, Carys explains the process of “engineered re-introduction” of species and the history of “unintended consequences”: ecological sabotage, riots, and an iGenus-controlled police state that may be dividing people into classes through genetics. Carys sees iGenus’s efforts as planet-saving idealism, while Michael witnesses their less noble actions when soldiers surround his orchard.
Unusual and effective
Director David O’Connor convincingly builds the personal, political, and philosophical tension between the couple. Carys stays in the antiseptic gray square box set created by Jorge Cousineau, who also designed the play’s futuristic lighting, clever projections on and through screens, and subtle tech-flavored soundscape. While we only see Michael’s location via Skype, we see him in a real house with windows, books, and comfortable old furniture. The juxtaposition jars.
Their other differences are not so immediately obvious. They balance each other, because while she’s colder and more passionate about work than about her absent family, she’s also alive with us. Tweedy, easygoing Michael, emanating from screens and speakers, feels more distant. Jillian Keys’s costumes help us understand both.
Their genuine, committed performances reveal sides in a struggle that’s already begun. Like much good science fiction (often called, more accurately, speculative fiction), Perfect Blue's possible future is extrapolated from our present. O’Connor’s production builds skillfully to a showdown — their scientific and political differences are also a struggle for their son’s soul — capped with a truly chilling ending. The magical yet harrowing final seconds of Perfect Blue could give us nightmares — or wake us up.