As the new play “Wirehead” has it, the introductory hoopla for the iPad, ShamWow and Snuggie was nothing compared to the furor over the Z-Device. This bright idea for better living, designed by the sinister, China-connected Syntel Corp., acts as Viagra for the mind: The lucky implantee is left with a “Jeopardy” champ’s intellect but a crack addict’s poise. There are some interesting ideas rattling around in Matthew Benjamin and Logan Brown’s script, as well as many poor ones. But it will take a firmer directorial hand than Larry Biederman’s for the Echo Theater Company to sort them all out.
The chip’s impact is charted through two MBAs (Jeremy Maxwell and Marc Rose) whose career paths are blocked by the wirehead (Riel Paley) who keeps winning the promotions and the kudos. Frustration builds, as does the need to lash out at these alien creatures in our midst (yes, the allegorical implications are laid on with a trowel).
Society is in trouble from the very beginning, but so is the play. The scribes never let us see the guys in their normal, pre-wirehead state, nor is there any sense of each as an individual. Maxwell and Rose begin scene one frantic and shrieking, their frenzy and volume unmodulated throughout. Rage against the machine turns increasingly outlandish, but the coherent character build necessary to justify the escalating madness is absent.
A wider perspective on the chip is meant to come from shock jock Rip (Ethan Phillips), who announces a French wirehead has found a cure for AIDS in three days, but too bad all those poor Africans wont be able to afford it. Such wicked snaps notwithstanding, his Howard Stern-ish rants are neither incisive nor varied enough to convey his alleged impact on the citizenry.
Relatively restrained, sensitive work from Amanda Saunders and Samantha Shelton as the girlfriends keeps interest up in act two. Debates over the morality and practicality of Z-Devices (what if one partner craves one and the other does not?) leaven the action, but too little and too late.