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BWW Review: Classical Theatre Brings a Century-Old Sci-Fi Classic to Houston

Now on stage at the The DeLuxe Theatre in Houston, Texas

BWW Review: Classical Theatre Brings a Century-Old Sci-Fi Classic to Houston
Calvin Hudson, Elissa Cuellar, and Maggie Maxwell
Photo by Pin Lim

"Grass has more will to live than they do"

When Karel Capek originally wrote R.U.R. in 1921 he introduced the term "robot" to the world. Robot, a name meant to imply servitude and forced labor, would change the way we sympathize with synthetic lifeforms. It's a play about scientists who create life but have no appreciation for it. Those who are unable to recognize the threat of treating creatures like servants and then giving them weapons.

Just over a hundred years later, Classical Theatre Company has brought R.U.R. to Houston. Separated into four scenes, or three acts and an epilogue, the performance was unusual and engrossing. At times I wondered if it was meant to be comedic or if the performers were treating the one hundred-year-old material as sincerely as possible. It quickly became apparent that there were no clear rules on what could happen next. A scene transition could cover ten years or a few seconds. A character's attitude on death could be funny or horrifying. "I am al-alive! It- it- it is better to live." As the play went on it became clear that this performance would stick in my head for a while.

A few key things to highlight. First of all, the scenic design by Afsaneh Aayani. I'm not sure if it makes sense to describe something as "futuristic" and "classical" at the same time. I found myself drawn to the floor design that almost forms a coherent shape but never quite coalesces. Next, the sound design by John Peoples. With characters using words like "outrageous" in their dialogue the dark soundscape helped me stay grounded in the emotions of the piece.

The performers were solid. Of course, Lindsay Ehrhardt (Dr. Gall) remains as funny as always. This time I cracked a smile at her tapping her feet on the ground. Blake Weir's performance as the robot Radius gave me one of those precious theatrical moments where you forget you're watching a play and are instead trying to unlock a piece of the puzzle inside your own mind, as though you're in that world and the outcome could affect you. This time the question was "what kind of malfunction is making his hand do that?" A special mention must be made about Gabriel Regojo (Mr. Alquist). The more I see him perform the more convinced I am of his ability to wring empathy out of me. When he's meant to play a tortured soul, I believe him.

The most dated element of the play has to be the language. Some people might find it overly silly, which is code for "too sincere." I think they were very wise not to modernize the material too much. By allowing the work to stand on its own merits they've made a case for doing the classics. It transported me to a time when a robot rebellion seemed like a possibility. Actually, it still does.

R.U.R. performs through January 30. Visit ClassicalTheatre.org to purchase your ticket.



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