Review - STOP. RESET. Explores The Future of History
With the emergence of a new generation of adults who have never experienced a world without the Internet, technology has not only changed the way we communicate in real time, but, as explored in playwright/director Regina Taylor's intriguing stop. reset., may have changed the way we remember; whether those memories are of personal tragedy or of the history of a people.
We're in the small office of Alexander Ames Chicago Black Book Publishers, which, as realized by scenic designer Neil Patel and projection designer Shawn Sagady, is a public display of themes and subtexts. Before the performance and while the actors are playing scenes, the walls continually flash up foot notes like film clips of Dr. King during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, family snapshots, passages from The Invisible Man and Don Quixote and definitions of words like memory and integrity.
It's a freezing morning in the Windy City and setting the temperature even chillier is the fact that the oldest and most prestigious African-American publishing company in the country, now a subsidiary of a larger corporation, must meet a severe budgetary deadline because of dwindling sales of hard copy books. The four remaining employees are sure that someone is getting fired by the end of the day.
Although Deb (Michi Barall), Chris (Teagle F. Bougere), Jan (LaTanya Richardson Jackson) and Tim (Donald Sage Mackay) have all agreed to stick together, each one's survival instinct kicks in when facing the possibility of unemployment and quick, uneasy alliances are made and dissolved based on race and gender.
Carl Lumbly's 70-year-old Alexander Ames is a tough, weather-beaten survivor who takes pride in his achievements as a pioneering black man in the business world and clings to the comfort he finds in the printed word. In individual meetings, the three youngest employees all try to convince him of their individual worth.
Deb tries to hid her panic and push her knowledge of social media and technological trends, though she admits that specialists will be needed to implement her ideas. Tim, who is white, is finding that after more than two decades with the company, the way he's looked upon and the ways his actions are interpret have unexpectedly changed with evolving race relations.
Ames' son died two years ago, and though the exact details of his death aren't discussed, the playwright hints that it was a violent, race-related incident. Chris, who is African-American, seems confident that he has bonded with the boss as a kind of surrogate son, but his suggestions that the company solve its financial woes by moving to less-expensive Detroit and that the word "Black" be removed from the company's name are not welcomed by its founder. Jan, also African-American and about a decade younger than Ames, takes the possibility of being fired very personally, having been with him from the start and endured the same racial history as he has.
Barely noticed at first, is the new 19-year-old janitor who calls himself J (Ismael Cruz Cordova). When J first speaks, it's in the language of high tech abbreviation, verbalizing WTF and LMAFO as part of conversation. At first Ames is disgusted with J's lack of interest in books and historical context, but the young man who claims to be of so many ethnic heritages that the concept is meaningless to him reveals himself as someone with a special gift for being in tune with the possibilities for the future. Though his ideas are a bit abstract, Ames sees him as the kind of visionary he believes himself to be and, despite the skepticism of his current employees, wishes to take him on as a consultant who will help him revolutionize the industry.
As J's involvement becomes more prominent, Taylor shifts the tone from realism to Afrofuturism, which she describes in a preface to her script as, "an emergent literary and cultural aesthetic that combines elements of science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, Afrocentricity, and magic realism with non-Western cosmologies in order to critique not only the present-day dilemmas of people of color, but also to revise, interrogate, and re-examine the historical events of the past."
As themes begin to surface, the technical jargon may seem a little dense, but the human survival instincts in action fuel the drama, as we see how technology and biology have begun to expand and redefine our communities and our own personal identities in ways that even Dr. King might never have dreamed of.