Review: ‘Ghost in the Machine’

Two plots coexist uneasily in David Gilman's first play. One involves a missing $ 50 bill that eventually leads to a series of furtive actions among two couples in a Cambridge, Mass., townhouse. The other concerns a computer-generated musical composition that, against all odds, includes a 19 -note quotation from "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

Two plots coexist uneasily in David Gilman’s first play. One involves a missing $ 50 bill that eventually leads to a series of furtive actions among two couples in a Cambridge, Mass., townhouse. The other concerns a computer-generated musical composition that, against all odds, includes a 19 -note quotation from “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Gilman demonstrates an ear keenly attuned to the staccato rhythms and verbal posturings of academics at play. One can imagine the Steppenwolf Theater Company , which gave “Ghost in the Machine” its premiere last year, going at Gilman’s tricky verbiage with near-physical relish; like any farce, such interplay requires more choreography than direction. Seth Barrish’s Barrow Group production falls considerably short of that, the result being to underscore the script’s weaknesses rather than its promise.

Matt (Stephen Singer), a musicologist, is spending three days with his lover Kim (Susan Floyd), a computer whiz specializing in game theory, in the home of his colleague Nancy (Lee Brock) and her husband, Wes (Reade Kelly), a professor of religion. Did Kim steal the $ 50 from her host’s wallet? Did she plant the quote in the score? Why are Matt and Kim staying over when they all seem to be connected with Harvard or M.I.T.? And why don’t they leave when things begin to go sour?

These aren’t disturbing questions left hanging, but irritants that get in the way of appreciation. The ending, an inconclusive soliloquy delivered by the mysterious score’s Amerasian composer (Ken Leung), only heightens the frustration. A more experienced hand and a keener wit could fashion such material into a slick contemporary farce or a black comedy with overtones of Pinter and Stoppard, all of which is only vaguely in evidence.

But Barrish hasn’t established a viable realm for his actors to inhabit; lines haltingly delivered routinely fail to hit their mark, while only Floyd comes across as comfortable, and she in the least attractive role. Indeed, with Kim, Gilman wants it both ways: Is she a calculating bitch who seduces Wes and betrays Matt in more ways than one, or is she a shrewd but ultimately pathetic victim of both sexual and academic politics? Don’t expect any answers here.

Michael McGarty’s sleek set — blond wood, Japanese screens, sisal rug — is pleasantly lit by Howard Werner, and Markas Henry’s costumes are OK.

Ghost in the Machine

Perry Street Theater; 94 seats, $15 top

Production

A Barrow Group presentation of a play in one act by David Gilman. Directed by Seth Barrish.

Creative

Set, Michael McGarty; costumes, Markas Henry; lighting, Howard Werner; music, Barrish; production supervisor, Laine Valentino; sound, One Dream; stage manager, Christine Lemme. Artistic director, Barrish. Opened Sept. 18, 1994, at the . Reviewed Sept. 21. Running time: 1 HOUR, 15 MIN.

Cast

Wes - Reade Kelly
Nancy - Lee Brock
Matt - Stephen Singer
Kim - Susan Floyd
Harper - Herbert Rubens
Minh Schumann - Ken Leung
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