Uncanny Valley OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

Photo: Seth Freeman
  • NY TIMES

  • S & C

  • THEATER PIZZAZZ

  • THEATRE IS EASY

  • STAGE BUDDY

Opening Night:
October 2, 2014
Closing:
October 26, 2014

Theater: 59E59 Theaters / 59 East 59th St., New York, NY, 10022

Synopsis: 

Meet Julian - one body part at a time - the product of a life extension laboratory. Claire, a neuroscientist, is tasked with teaching him to be human. This mesmerizing examination of the future, sparks an ethical and social debate about the consequences of creation. This spellbinding and deeply satisfying new play travels to the ethical heart of humankind's bid to outrace mortality. How far are we willing to go to forget, while insisting on never being forgotten? Noted for presenting new works to audiences in West Virginia, Baltimore and Washington DC, the Contemporary American Theater Festival makes its New York debut with Uncanny Valley.

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  • NEW YORK TIMES REVIEW OF Uncanny Valley

    Having It All, Except for Humanity ‘Uncanny Valley,’ a Jaunt Into the Future

    Laura Collins-Hughes

    October 16, 2014: He who dies with the most toys wins, or so they say. But what’s the point of having all those playthings if death is going to rip you from them anyway? In Thomas Gibbons’s futuristic two-hander Uncanny Valley, presented by the Contemporary American Theater Festival at 59E59 Theaters, a very wealthy man named Julian hasn’t quite found immortality, but he has bought a means to forestall his demise for at least a couple of centuries. With pancreatic cancer about to kill him, Julian plans to download the contents of his mind into an artificial human that carries his DNA and looks just as he did at 34, more than half a lifetime ago. The machine will assume his identity and his existence. “I haven’t had enough,” Julian tells Claire, a neuroscientist who has spent her career working on artificial consciousness. “This world, this life! I can’t even imagine having my fill.”

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  • STAGE AND CINEMA REVIEW OF Uncanny Valley

    AN UNCANNY PERFORMANCE FROM ALEX PODULKE

    Dmitry Zvonkov

    October 6, 2014: In Thomas Gibbons’ Uncanny Valley, directed by Tom Dugdale, Alex Podulke plays Julian, a sophisticated artificial human, who was created for the purpose of having his mind implanted with a dying billionaire’s consciousness in order that the billionaire may live on. Claire (Barbara Kingsley) is the neuroscientist tasked with teaching Julian how to be, or appear to be, human; all the action takes place in her office (the functional set is by Jesse Dreikosen). At first Julien is merely a head on a desk. Claire instructs him to open his eyes, smile, blink. In the next scene he has acquired a torso, then one arm, then two, and then legs. The excellent Mr. Podulke is thoroughly convincing as an android learning to become a man. His initially rigid facial expressions and awkward movements get smoother and more natural as his development progresses, until he is almost indistinguishable from us, with only the slightest hints here and there, minor affectations one might say, that remind us of what he really is. But what is he, really? This is the question at the center of Uncanny Valley. What is consciousness? What does it mean to be human? Is there a difference, for example, between being pleased and giving all the indications of being pleased? And what does being pleased actually mean?

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  • THEATER PIZZAZZ REVIEW OF Uncanny Valley

    Planned Obsolescence: Uncanny Valley at 59e59

    Eric J. Grimm

    October 12, 2014: Ethical questions abound in Thomas Gibbons Uncanny Valley, a clever one-act that makes a solid argument for the existence of science-fiction theater. The play, set some forty or fifty years in the future, chronicles the assembly of Julian (Alex Podulke), a robot who must learn to become more human. Neuroscientist Claire (Barbara Kingsley) is tasked with teaching Julian to adapt to his role as a human and takes a motherly approach to his rapid growth process. Julian and Claire’s journey is often disturbing and heartbreaking and this successful production allows their connection to transcend the fantastical nature of the plot. Gibbons’ script risks falling prey to dramatic conventions, though his characters are so strongly conceived that it’s a pleasure to watch them work through well-tread territory. Claire’s experience with Julian offers her the opportunity to make up for past mistakes as a parent but she may be crossing serious moral boundaries in the process. Much of the play hinges on whether or not Julian could ever be considered human, even if he has the appearance and memories of an actual person. Gibbons takes a balanced approach by posing questions, talking them out, and leaving them unanswered, as they should be. The result is great philosophical fiction; it’s heightened enough to entertain while it considers grim possibilities for the future.

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  • THEATRE IS EASY REVIEW OF Uncanny Valley

    A thoughtful science fiction story that showcases brilliant acting

    Sarah Weber

    October 9, 2014: Science Fiction – a genre that, in one hand, can be a highly imaginative and intelligent work of art and, in another hand, can so easily tumble down the dark abyss of despicably corny storytelling. Thankfully Thomas Gibbons has done an excellent job at both his research and at channeling his inner Mary Shelly and Isaac Asimov. Or perhaps Gibbons is secretly the combined memories of Shelly and Asimov, parading around in a body of wires and synthetic skin. I guess we will never know. (Unless he fails Phillip K. Dick’s empathy test, from the sci-fi novel Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep?) In this not-so-distant future, the billionaire Julian (Alex Podulke) has commissioned a team of scientists to create an android of himself so that he may “live on” to manage his enormous corporation. Claire (Barbara Kingsley) is a pioneer in the field of neuroscience and it is her task to teach the new Julian how to be human. Julian is by no means Claire’s first android, yet keeping her professionalism intact proves difficult as the line between her science and her maternal instincts becomes a blur. There is an acute self-awareness in Julian that failed to appear in her previous creations. She desires to watch him develop and change for both scientific inquiry and to fill the spaces left by her shortcomings as a parent. But Claire must face the reality that Julian was never meant to be her creation to begin with – he is as much an example of scientific progress as he is a desperate attempt by a very rich man to hold on to his money forever. Thus Julian must be released into a world that has yet decided whether he is to be treated as a human or a monster.

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  • STAGE BUDDY REVIEW OF Uncanny Valley

    Review: Uncanny Valley

    Tami Shaloum

    October 9, 2014: Few technologies are as controversial as artificial intelligence. Some laud it as a major breakthrough in modern science, changing the course of human history for the better. Others may be repulsed by it, viewing it as unnatural and cruel and akin to playing God. Whatever your view on the subject, you’re going to want to see Uncanny Valley, a brilliant, unnerving, and surprisingly moving play about the wonders and pitfalls of artificial intelligence. We first meet Julian (Alex Podulke) as a mere bust, head and torso, not much else. He doesn’t speak at first, and when he does, it is robotic. As the play progresses, he becomes more fully formed, gaining an arm, then another, until he finally receives his ultimate prize: his legs. His architect is Claire (Barbara Kingsley), part of the team of groundbreaking neuroscientists that created this new technology of artificial consciousness. She is teaching Julian how to be human. He is like a child in his discoveries, but his intelligence is highly advanced.

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