Review: On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, ‘Perfect Blue’ (Tiny Dynamite)
Shapiro On Theater, a Blog by Howard Shapiro, Newsworks.Org
JULY 18, 2017
The dystopian drama “Perfect Blue” is not just touched by the digital world — the play and its production are defined by it. It comes from two companies, Philadelphia’s Tiny Dynamite and Britain’s Pursued by a Bear, with one actor here and another in London, both on stage at the same time and connected through Skype on high-speed Internet. When I saw the play Sunday at 7 p.m., it was midnight in London. No matter: on stage, the action takes place in a ruined future world.
“Perfect Blue” is a fascinating look, just under an hour, at a universe altered by climate change. The food chain’s been decimated and nations drop from planes genetically engineered animals to help crops grow, or to destroy crops and starve other nations in a brutal eco-war.
Like, wow. That’s a big hunk of horror for a short piece of theater. Yet in G. S. Watson’s play, there’s more to contend with, and it makes the play work on a human scale: two scientists, a husband in Europe and his wife, at the forefront of science in the United States, are separated because of her position. She’s employed here with iGenis, a company that develops new versions of animals to restore some semblance of a food chain. That’s the only hope for the world — and so is iGenis, making the company ripe for planetary domination.
What we have is “1984: The Corporate Takeover Edition,” and like George Orwell’s celebrated vision of society’s demise, there’s a personal entanglement to make its disturbing world more resonant. The two scientists, separated by an ocean and 3,500-plus miles, are in a Skype fight over their marriage and the future of their teenage son, who remains with his dad in a Europe where people are starving and war is raging.
It’s taut, tense and gripping, under David O’Connor’s direction and with Tiny Dynamite’s leader Emma Gibson as the wife (on the stage of the theater at Christ Church Neighborhood House) and Harry Smith as the husband (inside a house in London’s Dalston neighborhood). Both actors are excellent as they attempt to continue a relationship long-distance while the world around them is in crisis. Master stage designer Jorge Cousineau did the set, lighting, sound and projections from Philadelphia and several others manage the transmissions and technical aspects here and in London.
The sound is clear, and so is the image from London on a large screen before us. The show has its weaknesses — there’s more than a little talk about contact lenses and the coloring in the wife’s eyes, private-relationship banter I found incomprehensible. And it take a few minutes to get used to Gibson’s British accent (she’s a Philadelphian from the UK) and Smith’s somewhat heavier accent coming over the Internet. But it’s the overwhelming impact of “Perfect Blue” that counts; the idea that we could genetically alter just about everything is, in equal parts, exciting and terrifying. Plus, Watson gives his play a human side so easy to buy into, the genetic stuff seems very real.
I wondered, after it was over, whether the two-continent production could just as easily work with a completely recorded overseas part to which Gibson responds here in Philadelphia. (Before “Perfect Blue,” another version of the show was done for London audiences with Skype from Philadelphia.) The answer, I think, is yes. But oddly, that would have been gimmicky while this real-time production is not. The “Perfect Blue” we see is fully live theater. And in a new way.
Tiny Dynamite presents G.W. Watson’s ‘Perfect Blue’
By Mark Cofta, Broad Street Review
July 18, 2017
Tiny Dynamite’s blurb about G. Watson’s eerie, hour-long science fiction drama Perfect Blue announces “Two actors, two countries, one live internet connection.” But that only describes the play’s performance gimmick. The technology merits a few explanatory pages in the program, but the script’s personalities and issues are much more compelling than this device.A dangerous game.
In the near future, climate change runs amok as corporations vie for ecological control and the right to “fix” the environment. Married scientists Carys (Emma Gibson) and Michael (Harry Smith) are divided by the Atlantic Ocean, but even more by conflicting philosophies. Carys – live in the theater – believes she is saving the world with supercorp iGenus, replacing extinct species with genetically customized new creatures that will restore ecological balance. What could go wrong?
Michael fears Carys is playing God, her “corporate Babylon” saving nature by destroying it. Both character and actor are in England, skyping from a farmhouse while living with their unseen son Nathan and nurturing a community orchard to provide food “by the people, for the people.”
In a series of short TED Talk-like lectures, Carys explains the process of “engineered re-introduction” of species and the history of “unintended consequences”: ecological sabotage, riots, and an iGenus-controlled police state that may be dividing people into classes through genetics. Carys sees iGenus’s efforts as planet-saving idealism, while Michael witnesses their less noble actions when soldiers surround his orchard.
Unusual and effective
Director David O’Connor convincingly builds the personal, political, and philosophical tension between the couple. Carys stays in the antiseptic gray square box set created by Jorge Cousineau, who also designed the play’s futuristic lighting, clever projections on and through screens, and subtle tech-flavored soundscape. While we only see Michael’s location via Skype, we see him in a real house with windows, books, and comfortable old furniture. The juxtaposition jars.
Their other differences are not so immediately obvious. They balanced each other, because while she’s colder, and more passionate about work than about her absent family, she’s also alive with us. Tweedy, easygoing Michael, emanating from screens and speakers, feels more distant. Jillian Keys’s costumes help us understand both.
Their genuine, committed performances reveal sides in a struggle that’s already begun. Like much good science fiction (often called, more accurately, speculative fiction), Perfect Blue’s possible future is extrapolated from our present. O’Connor’s production builds skillfully to a showdown – their scientific and political differences also a struggle for their son’s soul – capped with a truly chilling ending. The magical yet harrowing final seconds of Perfect Blue could give us nightmares – or, hopefully, wake us up.
Explosive ideas, real passion: Eco-drama ‘Perfect Blue’ is perfect theater
By Tirdad Derakhshani, The Philadelphia Inquirer.
July 17, 2017
Since life first appeared on Earth 3.8 billion years ago, the planet has undergone five great extinctions, events that have wiped out more than half of all species.
Tiny Dynamite’s intense, disturbing, and absorbing new drama Perfect Blue, through Sunday at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City, opens at the beginning of the Sixth Great Extinction. In other words, playwright G.S. Watson’s two-character play, featuring two actors who are (literally) separated by an ocean and who play off each other via Skype, is set in the realm of science fiction.
The premise is as elegant as it is simple. A married couple, both British scientists, are forced by their jobs to maintain a long-distance relationship. Carys (Tiny Dynamite artistic director Emma Gibson) works in America for a multinational biotech firm, while her husband, Michael (Harry Smith, Tiny Dynamite’s Spacewang), has turned his back on the corporate world and is running an agricultural co-op in the English countryside.
The audience is privy to the couple’s Skype conversations, chats about their difficult relationship, their teenage son, the nature of evolution, and the responsibility of the scientist to humanity. The interactions become increasingly strained and combative as an environmental disaster unfolds across Europe and Britain.
Gibson and Smith actually are separated by the Atlantic during the play itself: She is on stage in Old City while he Skypes in his performance from a Victorian house in London. This isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a palpable way to show the audience how human interactions are actively shaped and changed by social media.
Director David O’Connor (Brewer’s Fayre at Tiny Dynamite) and Barrymore-winning production designer Jorge Cousineau present interactions between Carys and Michael using several screens that appear as the occasion calls for it, including semitranslucent partitions that periodically separate us from the stage.
In between each conversation, Carys turns to the audience and tries to explain the technologies she has developed, with video segments to illustrate. She describes how she has used genetic modification to reintroduce long-ago-extinct species, but also to create new variants, new types of flowers, snakes, insects, gorgeous butterflies, and giant dragonflies. Watson (Food; The Art of Hiding) here uses the most exquisite language imaginable, with rich, complex, and strange imagery, deploying a poetics of evolutionary biology delivered by Gibson with passion and conviction.
As the 60-minute drama progresses, it becomes increasingly evident that the ravages experienced by Michael and other Europeans may not be entirely due to nature’s own design, but may be humanly caused.
Grounded in science and making use of technologies that utterly define our lives in the age of social media, Perfect Blue, developed in partnership with British theater company Pursued by a Bear, explores the shrinking gap between the limits of human technology and the unlimited reach of the human imagination. It poses an astonishing question: What if biotech firms responded to impending ecological disaster not by discovering a way to avert it, but by developing technologies they could use to shape the next great extinction according to their own design?
What if people like Carys and her bosses could determine which species would live and which would die out? What if they could use environmental forces to cull the human population in certain parts of the globe (say, Africa and Europe, as the play suggests) while keeping other territories safe (say, America)?
Perfect Blue uses just the right mix of fact and fiction to remind us that our environmental future is far from settled. It disturbs and unsettles without coming across as shrill or alarmist. That’s a rare feat.
Exit, pursued by a butterfly: Tiny Dynamite presents ‘Perfect Blue’
By Margaret Darby, Delco Culture Vulture.
July 16, 2017
The first impressive aspect of the production of Perfect Blue, a play about an environmental disaster in the near future, is the carefully prepared program. Speedy Motorcycle Studio’s presentation and printing are, in themselves, enough to commend it. The contents of the 16-page brochure include a mini-glossary of genetic terms and a timeline of genetic discoveries, helping the audience become familiar with the technical terms that fly by in the play. If only the audience had come in time to read it – some dragged in as late as 25 minutes into the one hour play.
The set, designed by Jorge Cousineau, is a little box with a lab table, a microscope and a backdrop. When the play begins, the backdrop bursts into life as a computer screen, emanating a series of strobing colors and patterns and making the stage seem like the ultimate sleek laboratory.
As the lights stop flashing, Carys (Emma Gibson), a slight woman in a severe bun, strides on stage with a hundred watt smile as she expounds upon the glories of her research at iGenis. Then, she slips on her lab coat as a structure resembling a set of windows descends in front of her projecting what she is examining under the microscope – the latest DNA experiment. She waves her hand and the screen behind her reveals her husband Michael (Harry Smith), dialing in to chat with her from the UK. He, a geneticist by training, discusses her latest accomplishment with pride. But while she is wearing the white coat of laboratory glory, he has on jeans and a lumberjack shirt, ever ready to defend his beloved community orchard.
Michael really is physically in the UK. Tiny Dynamite won a Techniculture residency with the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance to set up the technology for live-streaming the play between two continents. The show was produced in 2016 as The Lamellar Project with the audience in the UK and the second actor in Philadelphia. The cast and crew are prepared for the worst as streaming connections can break down at any moment. Fortunately, there was no loss of connection when I saw the show.
The actors make a gradual transition in a short hour from loving mates who admire and enjoy each other to foes in battle. Gibson starts out as a soft-spoken lab worker, increasingly capable of giving talks to promote her company and increasingly intoxicated with her power. Michael bemoans her transition from the shy and meek nerd he married to a seductive and secretive woman determined to ride the wave of eugenic euphoria. Michael’s only hope of bringing her back to the fold is by expressing his love for her.
G.S. Watson’s play uses compelling dialogue to tell the story of a couple and a world challenged by apocalyptic extinction, giving the audience an eye-opening hour’s journey into the future. The visual effects and cues were brilliantly executed, although some of the most vivid images that remain in my mind are Ms. Gibson’s descriptions of foaling mares and dolphins which were not accompanied by any visuals. In short, the technology served as an intriguing addition to the play, but it is the excellent acting by both Ms. Gibson and Mr. Smith that made it exciting.
Review ‘Perfect Blue’ at Tiny Dynamite
By Celeste Mann, DC Metro Theater Arts
July 15, 2017
Something new and cutting-edge is happening at Christ Church Neighborhood House this summer – the U.S. premiere of Perfect Blue, by G.S. Watson. Perfect Blue, produced by Philadelphia-based theatre company Tiny Dynamite in association with UK theatre company Pursued By a Bear, is an example of “transmedia storytelling.” According to their website, “transmedia storytelling utilizes live and digital platforms to tell a single story.” In this particular play, a husband and wife, both scientists, communicate via Skype. Harry Smith, who plays Michael, is physically located in London during the play. Emma Gibson, who plays Carys, is at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Philadelphia. (The starting time of the performances is actually adjusted to account for the time difference between the United States and the United Kingdom.)
Just being present at this premiere is fascinating, to say the least. The production, directed by David O’Connor, uses live streaming as well as video and projection. What makes this innovative is that both actors are performing at the same time, but are not in the same place. Up until last night I had seen quite a few shows that included pre-recorded video and audio, but this is different. The characters interact, yet are separated by an ocean and are experienced through different media. Michael comes on via the live stream on a projected screen at the back of the stage, and it is like watching a television program. At the same time, Carys is featured in the flesh onstage.
The play is set in the future, and the set/sound design by Jorge Cousineau definitely captures the austerity and cleanliness of a lab, as well as advanced technology. There are projections in front of Carys (which she moves through the air with her hand) to represent her work in the lab and her interaction with Michael via Skype, and projections behind her when she describes her scientific projects. When Carys stands in front of her company’s logo and explains the projects, she speaks directly to the audience. I felt as if I were attending a genetics convention or a meeting in which the company’s plans were being outlined to shareholders.
Perfect Blue is only 70 minutes, but it is a very complex and intense play that requires maximum engagement and attention. This is not only because of the various forms of technology involved. It is packed with personal, political and scientific references. It required me to watch a live actor on a screen and, at the same time, a live actor onstage, and also to understand their relationship problems, genetics, and the political events of the time. Carys and Michael are involved in a long-distance marriage, which is not satisfying for either of them. Michael is also a scientist but not working on a high tech project or engaged by an important bio-tech firm like his wife. There are political implications in the work being done by this firm that are wreaking havoc around the world. They also have a son who is never seen in the play, but becomes both a marital and political football.
As actors, both Gibson and Smith are excellent. Carys is cool and collected and appears very sure of herself. She is so clinical and in control that she almost seems like a robot. Michael, seen in a cozy home in London, seems more human, and is emotional, outspoken and “all over the place,” which is to be expected due to the circumstances. Ironically, even though he is experienced through the screen projection, he is the more vivid character – while Carys’ professionalism and indifference is breathing right in front of me. The contrast is stark, and it works.
I would like to attend Perfect Blue again, now that I have been exposed to “transmedia storytelling” firsthand, and the newness has worn off, in order to concentrate more on the scientific and political events. For future productions, it would be worthwhile to have a talkback after the show, to explain the technology, as well as to discuss the ramifications of species extinction, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and the role of biotechnology companies in the food industry. Because there are so many layers to this stunning and groundbreaking piece, its major message may be overshadowed or upstaged.
I recommend Perfect Blue for those interested in technology, science, and sustainability especially.
Running Time: 70 minutes, with no intermission.
THEATER REVIEW: In Tiny Dynamite’s Perfect Blue, Butterflies Are Far From Free
By David Fox, PhillyMag.com,
July 15, 2017
Do you feel (as I do) that the fact we can talk to people anywhere on wireless telephones—or really, that there’s a thing called the Internet that works at all—is a miracle? If so, prepare to be gob-smacked by the ambition and achievement of G. S. Watson’s new play, Perfect Blue, where one actor appears on stage in Philadelphia, while another is patched in, on-screen and in real-time, from England.
Much of the play is a dialogue between the two. They are married scientists, working on different projects (Carys develops new strains of butterflies; Michael engineers apples and other fruits), who also have radically different world views. To keep the premise intact, their conversations require perfect synchronicity. I can only imagine how challenging to would be to rehearse such a thing—or the risks of live performance.
To be sure, on opening night there was a minor glitch. The first time the actor in England appeared via the web, the picture looked great, but the sound was compromised. The production team, including on-stage actor Emma Gibson, and director David O’Connor, handled things with amazing coolness and precision (I would have had a stroke), and it was solved in a few minutes. From then on, smooth sailing—astonishingly, so.
In fact, the possibility of technical failure is both cannily analogous to underlying themes in Perfect Blue, and also part of what makes watching it so energizing. Too often, contemporary shows (especially the big-budget Broadway kind) aspire to the slick perfection of film. One of my first reactions to Perfect Blue was, how thrilling to be reminded of the without-a-net quality of theater.
Still, for me, real theatrical miracles happen through language, character, and plot, rather than technology. The compelling, entertaining Perfect Blue, a clever fusion of futurist science fiction and domestic drama, falls short of the miraculous. At 70 minutes, it’s elegant but slight, and the dystopian scare tactics are implausibly over-cooked (or at least, let’s all hope to hell that this scenario is implausible!).
But the piece is made extraordinary here by the circumstances, including excellent acting by both the corporeal Gibson and the virtual-but-real Harry Smith, crisply pointed direction by O’Connor, and especially, the fantastic design work of Jorge Cousineau, who seems to top himself with every project.
Make no mistake—Perfect Blue is a major undertaking by Tiny Dynamite, who are also partners here (with the British company, Pursued By A Bear) in the development process. Another miracle for me is seeing a small company grow to real prominence—and that’s certainly what you’ll see here.