WELCOME TO THE MACHINE 


Do you trust the future? Not in the sense of whether it will treat you well, or even be rational, but do you trust it to accurately report itself to the present?

Well, neophyte publisher John Pace Seavering does. When, in 1919, a mysterious machine starts spewing pages of academic literature from the 1980s into his fledgling publishing house, he buys every word on blind faith. It seems his faithful lackey Gidger fails to find fame in the 20th century, but his pet dog Sir Lancelot does, annoying Gidger to distraction. John has been waffling on printing his best friend Denny's rambling masterpiece, as it might interfere with his love affair with black jazz singer Jessie, who wrote her own more promising memoir. Now John must choose between a future of her overdosing or Denny drinking himself to death. If only the future wasn't so blunt.

What begins as an ordinary romance shatters into a clever and challenging science-fiction comedy. David Green's Gidger grabs the comedic lead; he not only gets most of the good lines, he pounds them home as a fastidious man with aspirations of climbing a very short management ladder. As John, the tall and elegant Derik Boik looks the entire part of the moneyed young man, accepting just enough of Daddy's cash to flip off the old man. This sort of thing goes in and out of fashion – it was big in 1920 and 1960 – but nowadays most young men will take that gig so long as there is a company Beemer. Wistful Denny, played by Tyler Anderson, seems Irish enough to take to drink, whether he can write or not.

I was a bit mystified by the casting of Mary Thompson Hunt as John's mistress, Jessie. She played the role well enough, but I couldn't buy her supposed racial character. The most fun came from Bethany Fraher as Rosamund, Denny's rich-girl fiancee endowed with the clean face of youth and the most infectious laugh I've heard in years. I should be so happy.

What's not immediately obvious is the cast's acceptance of these mysterious missives from 100 years hence. When John hears he will be a pillar of the literary world, he's ready to roll the dice on two books, but when he hears Denny will die drunk, he takes pause. But really, there's no reason to believe or disbelieve anything the mysterious machine spews. The only difference between a fortuneteller and this machine is its specificity, but only time will tell if the truth is told. Are we biologically bent to believe anything sufficiently mysterious? I think so, and these folks go right along.

Take the ride. It's funny and heart-breaking, and you can discuss it on the ride home. Now that's good theater.

More by Al Pergande

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