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Review: Girl in the Machine

It’s no secret that society’s reliance on technology amplifies every year. We walk around with new mini telecommunications supercomputers that slowly radiate our cells, some of us have boxes in our homes that control the power, common jobs like cashiers are slowly but surely being automated, genetic editing is on the rise … we’re essentially inching closer and closer to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. This is why a play like Girl in the Machine sounds appealing, but a little unnerving at the same time—we’re not that far off from it becoming a reality.

Stef Smith’s Girl in the Machine—presented by theatre company Bustle & Beast—focuses on the relationship between Polly (Beth Graham) and her husband Owen (Mike Tan), a 30-something couple plagued with their own dependency and hate of technology. Polly is a tightly-wound lawyer until Owen brings home a mysterious “Black Box,” a new piece of AI tech designed to alleviate stress. 

You can guess what happens next—Polly becomes attached and dependent on Black Box, begins losing time, and ignores Owen. It’s a pretty classic sci-fi script and it’s impossible to not make a heavy comparison to Black Mirror, but what really separates the play is the venue choice of the Zeidler Dome at the Telus World of Science.

Every time Polly slips on the Black Box headband, the audience, lounging back in their reclining seats, gets a 360-degree influx of digital projections in vibrant colour. However, this experience feels somewhat underutilized as Polly only puts on the headband a few times throughout the play. Sure, we hear about her obsession with Black Box and we see her addictive mania in the real world, but it’s hard to believe when all we really see are some cosmic dust swirls and trees whenever she jacks in. Black Box apparently unlocks some sort of euphoric sensitivity in its user and this could have been explored way more with the Dome’s projection capabilities. Also Black Box—presented by an ominous, foreboding voice from Pat Darbasie—has its own sinister agenda and it would have been cool to see an AI essentially take over the Dome’s projections, but alas, no.   

It’s also difficult to determine whether it’s the acting in Girl in the Machine that is lacking or the script until around the 30-minute mark. Some of the banter between Polly and Owen is stilted and unbelievable, but it’s not the fault of the actors. It’s due to an over-embellished and, at times, careless script that tries to burn through too many topics in 70 minutes. 

Calling the embedded chips that Polly and Owen have in their skin “citizenchips” may sound like a clever pun, and it would be if this was a Grade 11 theatre production, but maybe not for a play that classifies itself as a dystopian drama. It’s also annoying when a play thinks it needs to chime in that these characters love each other with pointless monologues that have no real effect on the plot. Simply, this script could really use some polish. 

There are some surprises in the second act that do bump up the play’s relevance and the dialogue between characters does matter once they each have a motivation. Still, it’s a shame it takes 50 minutes to get to this point.

 Due to its venue choice, Girl in the Machine is an attempt at a type of theatre we don’t see too often so it might be worth the watch all the same. If you’re into somewhat predictably dark, but also enjoyable dystopian theatre it could be a way to kill an evening. Based on the subject matter, it is a play that will be talked about in circles of friends after viewing. Although, you might just want to go home and watch an episode of Black Mirror.

Review: Girl in the Machine

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