World Premiere HOMO EX MACHINA Announced At Stanford's Prosser Studio, 5/3-6
Stanford philosopher and bioethicist Karola Kreitmair, with generous assistance from the Medicine and Muse program, will present her drama "Homo Ex Machina" at Stanford's Prosser Studio for one weekend only, May 3 through 6. "Homo Ex Machina" explores the effects of human ethics, desire, and fallibility on the fast-developing world of medical neurostimulator implants. Tickets ($5 students, $20 in advance, $25 at the door) can be purchased by visiting https://homoexmachina.brownpapertickets.com.
In the play, Charlie is a brilliant scientist whose life is upended when she is diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease that leaves her stuttering, shaking, and forgetful. Selflessly, Charlie's wife, Maggie, plunges into her new role as caretaker, and over the years both settle into their new identities. When Charlie finds out about an experimental neurostimulation brain implant she immediately agrees to the procedure. The transformation Charlie undergoes, however, is more than either she or Maggie have bargained for, and the two are suddenly strangers within their own home.
Impelled by the impetuous neurologist Ava and the adoring graduate student Tyler, Maggie and Charlie are pushed to their breaking points. As they negotiate the problematic gift of Charlie's Faustian bargain, they each must confront themselves in ways that are excruciating and disorienting. Entangled in each other's identities, the lives of Charlie and Maggie crescendo into a devastating climax that renders everything changed and nothing capable of being how it was before.
While a brain implant that reverses loss of motor skills and simultaneously changes personality may sound like a dystopian near-future idea, the technology described in the play has been in use for over a decade, and sometimes with similar effects. Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) devices send electrical impulses to specific targets in the brain to directly change brain activity in a controlled manner (although the exact mechanism of action is still under debate). The FDA approved DBS as a treatment for essential tremor and Parkinson's Disease in 1997, for dystonia in 2003, and for obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in 2009. Brain-computer interface systems (whether implanted in the brain, or elsewhere in the body) have also been used in addressing chronic pain, for types of sight and hearing loss, and other medical issues. Most devices come with an external remote, which patients can use to turn the device off for periods of time, which may be recommended for particular cases.
The success of many of these device placements has been undeniable: people previously suffering severe debilitation from various diseases have regained functionality to an astonishing degree. However, the placement of the electrodes in the brain and the calibration of the stimulator can have massive neuropsychiatric effects, including apathy, hallucinations, hypersexuality, depression, euphoria, and cognitive dysfunction. These effects are potentially reversible, as the electrodes may be repositioned and the stimulator recalibrated. Homo Ex Machina explores the grey area of human ambition in and around these issues, when an individual's desires may override the responsibility to follow a prudent course of action.
The cast for this world premiere production includes Stephanie Crowley as Charlie, Stephanie Whigham as her wife Maggie, Diana Roman as the neurologist Ava, and Jake Goldstein as biology graduate student Tyler.
Playwright and director Karola Kreitmair holds a Doctor of Philosophy and Master of Arts from Stanford University, as well as a Master of Science from University Of Edinburgh and a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University. She is a member of the International Association of Bioethics, the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, and the American Philosophical Association. She also serves on the Emerging Issues Advisory Task Force and the Neuroethics Leadership Council for the International Neuroethics Society. She has written close to a dozen plays, many of which have been produced in Providence, RI, New York, NY, and Palo Alto, CA.
This production is made possible in part by a grant from the Stanford 'Medicine and the Muse' program, celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The novel is eerily relevant today with ethical dilemmas around appropriate use of stem cells, questions about organ donation and organ harvesting, as well as animal to human transplants. Additionally, the rise of Artificial Intelligence portends an uncertain future of the boundaries between machines and humans. 'Frankenstein@200' is a year-long series of academic courses and programs including a film festival, a play, a lecture series and an international Health Humanities Conference that examine the numerous moral, scientific, sociological, ethical, and spiritual dimensions of the work, and why Dr. Frankenstein and his monster still capture the moral imagination today. 'Frankenstein@200' is sponsored by the Stanford Medicine & the Muse Program in partnership with the Stanford Humanities Center, the Stanford Arts Institute, the Office of Religious Life, the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning, Stanford Continuing Studies, the Cantor Arts Center, the Department of Art & Art History, and the Center for Biomedical Ethics.
TICKETS: $5 students, $20 in advance, $25 at the door. General seating, max capacity per show, 50 seats. For information or tickets, visit https://homoexmachina.brownpapertickets.com.