Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Reviews: The Brick Theater's THE UNCANNY VALLEY: A Trip Down The Technological Rabbit Hole

"The Uncanny Valley" invites audiences to take a trip down the technological rabbit hole. Created and directed by University of North Carolina Chapel Hill professor Francesca Talenti, this new play makes for an unsettling evening at the theater - yet its overly moralistic tone prevents it from probing as deeply as it could. The play provides a twist on the concept of the uncanny valley - the idea that that which possesses human features and moves almost like a human being, but is slightly off, will have an effect of repulsion on the human viewer.

"The Uncanny Valley" follows Edwin (Alphonse Nicholson), a young man down on his luck and desperately looking to overcome the rough patch in his life. At the play's start, a mysterious professor - via a robot named Dummy (played by an actual robot named RoboThespianä) - invites Edwin to participate in a study that will create a robot version of himself and simultaneously allow him to strike it rich. Though the batty old janitor Atropos (the convincingly zany Katja Hill) warns Edwin of the danger, he simply cannot refuse the offer - and he sets off on the study in which human and robot dummy may become a little too close for comfort.

The most striking and unsettling element of "The Uncanny Valley" by far proves to be the RoboThespianä - a distinctive robot with quite the crew behind him, including Robot Manager Jim Bulluck, Robo Explorer Henry Fuchs, and Software Designer Adrian Ilie. Though the robot appears quite mechanical at first, Dummy is programmed to mimic the movements and appearance of Nicholson, down to the cadence of the actor's voice. This makes for a profoundly uncomfortable theatrical experience - and rightly so.

Oddly enough, however, Nicholson's own performance also seems a little mechanical at first. Edwin at the beginning feels rather flat, but Nicholson's emotional depth as a performer grows as the run time continues on. Hill supplies a bit of comic relief as the crazy Atropos, though her character is largely one-sided - serving as the superego to Dummy's id. This trajectory echoes the content of the play - "The Uncanny Valley" aims to provoke both an intellectual and emotional reaction in the audience yet does not quite manage to do either. A great deal of the dialogue - especially in the case of Atropos's lines - feels heavy-handed, clearly stating a message to theatergoers. The play raises several interesting ideas, yet only scrapes the surface on them. I admire the effort this production makes, however, and I will declare that the show had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.

That feeling aside, this production also demonstrates that the convergence of human and robot is not yet a real danger - the show suffered a near 40-minute delay due to technical issues. Yet I somehow took some comfort in this: the valley between human and technology remains - and "The Uncanny Valley" nicely confirms our unique humanness upon the show's end.

Photo Credit: Kathy Perkins


From This Author - Rachel Weinberg

Chicago native Rachel Weinberg has been one of the most frequent contributing editors and critics for BroadwayWorld Chicago since joining the team in 2014. She is a marketing professional specializ... (read more about this author)

Review: CLYDE'S at Goodman TheatreReview: CLYDE'S at Goodman Theatre
September 21, 2022

In CLYDE’S, playwright Lynn Nottage posits that salvation comes in the form of a more ways than one.

September 15, 2022

What did our critic think of THE MOST SPECTACULARLY LAMENTABLE TRIAL OF MIZ MARTHA WASHINGTON at Steppenwolf Theatre Company? Steppenwolf’s season opener THE MOST SPECTACULARLY LAMENTABLE TRIAL OF MIZ MARTHA WASHINGTON is a wild fever dream of a play. James Ijames’s play asks audiences to grapple with the question of who is truly free in America and at what cost do we perpetuate cycles of oppression and abuse, even though they may fall under the guise of forward movement.

Review: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at Court TheatreReview: ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at Court Theatre
September 11, 2022

What did our critic think of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE at Court Theatre? Joseph Kesselring's 1941 play ARSENIC AND OLD LACE combines farce, explicitly dark comedy, and a little murder. Director Ron OJ Parson's decision to envision the central Brewster family as a wealthy Black American family gives the play a modern twist.

Interview: Peloton London Cycling Instructor Sam Yo on Bringing Broadway to the BikeInterview: Peloton London Cycling Instructor Sam Yo on Bringing Broadway to the Bike
July 26, 2022

Peloton Studios London instructor and former West End performer Sam Yo has been bringing his unique energy and passion for musical theater to Peloton members since he joined the team as an instructor in 2019. For Peloton members familiar with Sam, it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was every bit as enthusiastic, genuine, and warm in this interview as he seems on the bike. On the heels of his special Andrew Lloyd Webber Peloton Broadway ride last week, I connected with Sam about inviting Peloton members back into the studio for the first time since 2020, some insider secrets on how he programs his Broadway rides, and how his background as an actor informs the immense presence he brings as an instructor.

Interview: Megan Masako Haley of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Pre-Broadway TryoutInterview: Megan Masako Haley of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA Pre-Broadway Tryout
July 21, 2022

Andy Sachs, Emily Charlton, and of course, the infamous Miranda Priestly from THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA are back following Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel and the cult-classic 2006 film...but this time, these iconic characters are taking to the stage in a brand-new musical with music from Elton John, lyrics from Shaina Taub, book by Kate Wetherhead, and direction from Anna Shapiro (who many Chicago audiences will know from her tenure at Steppenwolf Theatre Company). Megan Masako Haley takes on the role of Emily. I interviewed Megan early in the preview period for the show’s pre-Broadway Chicago tryout about her experience bringing the character to life and the creative process for this new musical.