Opening Nights: Returning to Albert Joseph

Returning to Albert Joseph

Thelab@Inscape, 815 Seattle Blvd. S., 800-838-3006, $15. 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sun. & Mon., May 12. Ends May 25.

Depending on your tolerance for and enjoyment of confusion, The Satori Group’s latest laboratory concoction will either confound or delight you. If you truly groove on having no bearings, stop reading and just go see it. Others, read on with the caveat that I’m not sure my understanding of the plot, characters, or even subject here fits with the intentions of local playwright Spike Friedman (no relation). Notwithstanding this uncertainty, the play—developed over three years with the involvement of the entire company, plus workshop audiences—kept me intrigued and seeking, if sometimes frustrated.

A fondness for sci-fi may help you better navigate the terrain. There’s some sort of three-way war being waged among 1) a faction called “statists,” 2) rebels of some sort, who are reprogramming our weak human brains to accept rationalist theories of charismatic leader-brainwasher Albert Joseph, and 3) counter-rebels whose vestigial tattered memories make them nostalgic for emotions and the pre-rationalist regime. Recently transplanted from L.A., LoraBeth Barr plays Andrea, our rather stiff, strident guide to the struggle. Quinn Franzen is Leo, Andrea’s sensitive, brain-damaged charge. Information ekes out through their interactions, and from Andrea’s rants at and pleas to her captors, colleagues, and the shaky video image of Albert Joseph himself. The torrent of details, accusations, buzzwords, and narrative shards makes for a fun puzzle, but Barr and Franzen don’t quite sell an emotional connection between them. Maybe they’re not supposed to, as the setting is a universe of distrust and disconnection, but the story seems to set up that expectation.

Adding to the sense of instability, after the first act, the audience and two performers switch positions: us on the stage, they on the steeply pitched bleachers. Skillful lighting and sound design also help enlarge the scope of the compact stage. (Alex Matthews and Caitlin Sullivan direct the production.)

Among the principal pleasures of this enigmatic two-hander is the knit of unfolding context and the texture of the language, which often tumbles too quickly for full comprehension and veers between yearning lyricism and sophomore bullshit session. Its drawbacks, however, include a frequent sense of manufactured urgency and arbitrary-seeming mood shifts. If this is the future, it’s an artificial one, drained of humanity’s errata, including war, joy, caring. I wouldn’t want to live there, but Returning to Albert Joseph succeeds in planting bugs in your head that will be hard to override.

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