Review: ‘Futura’

A bookless world's texts have gone digital and been Wiki-fied.

In Jordan Harrison’s sci-fi “Futura,” set 100 or so years hence, a bookless world’s texts have gone digital and been Wiki-fied. Humanity has muddied up the works of Freud, Dickens and James Patterson with annotations gone amok, the sinister ruling Company stepping in to expurgate centuries of wisdom. Worse yet, handwriting is a dead art, and everyone’s typed thoughts are available for all to see. Sure, it’s preposterous and the Boston Court staging is uneven. But the script offers erudition aplenty, and suspense too, as we root for a resistance movement determined to fight a Kindle rather than curse the darkness.

Fully 30 of the play’s 90 minutes consist of a typography history lecture by a strict Professor (Bonnie Friedericy), who would have us return to the days when “the sound of scratching pencils was as common as the hum of ozone stabilizers, if you can imagine.” With its fascinating arcana, deeply humanist perspective and Hana Sooyeon Kim’s stylish projections, this would be a tour de force if only Friedericy lightened up on her overbearing, supercilious delivery and showed some warmth here and there.

Once the Professor has been kidnapped and locked in a filthy hideout, Fridericy’s tiresome invulnerability contributes to the air of unreality in scene two, despite Myung Hee Cho’s evocative setting. Helmer Jessica Kubzansky lacks her usual handle on minute details: Much is made of truth serum, though it seems to have no effect, and characters insist there’s danger in raised voices and then shout anyway. Later, the action stops dead for some cliched personal reminiscence, and the Professor barely reacts when a book — to her, a sacred relic — drops rudely to the floor.

A standoff with regard to the rebels’ next steps becomes a disguised colloquy on the unintended consequences of digitization gone wild. It’s an extremely absorbing shall-we-beat-’em-or-join-’em debate, even though it’s heavily stacked in favor of guess who, not least because of the indifferent authority of sparring partner Bob McCracken.

It’s the footsoldiers who truly anchor the production, Zarah Mahler breathing fire as a true believer and Edward Tournier exhibiting touching grace as a gawky amateur bombmaker with unexpected depth of soul. Kudos, too, to the entire design team for creating a plausible vision of our futura: clothes just the far side of contemporary from Leah Piehl, and lighting just the right degree of chilly reality from Jaymi Lee Smith.


The Theater @ Boston Court, Pasadena, Calif.; 99 seats; $32 top


A Theater @ Boston Court presentation of a play in one act by Jordan Harrison. Directed by Jessica Kubzansky.


Sets, Myung Hee Cho; costumes, Leah Piehl; lighting, Jaymi Lee Smith; projections, Hana Sooyeon Kim; sound design and music, John Zalewski; production stage manager, Maggie Goddard. Opened Oct. 9, 2010. Reviewed Oct. 10. Runs through Nov. 7. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.


The Professor - Bonita Friedericy Gash - Edward Tournier Grace - Zarah Mahler Edward - Bob McCracken
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