R.U.R.: the original of the robots, revived

Edward Willett @ 05-10-2008

rur_logo I’ve known about Karel Čapek‘s play R.U.R. for a long time, but I’ve never seen a production. Almost nobody has: the play was first performed in 1921, and ran for just four performances on Broadway on 1942. But now this classic science fiction play, the one which introduced the word and the concept of robots to the world, has been revived in Chicago. (Via About Last Night.)

Wall Street Journal theatre critic Terry Teachout recently reviewed it:

“R.U.R.” is a tale of modernity run amok, the story of Rossum’s Universal Robots, an island factory that manufactures lifelike but soulless artificial humans in vast quantities, then ships them all over Europe to grateful purchasers who use them to do their dirty work. This being science fiction, things inevitably go wrong: Dr. Gall (John Henry Roberts), one of the white-coated scientists in the employ of Rossum’s Universal Robots, makes the fatal mistake of building a few hundred robots that can feel emotions, upon which all hell breaks well and truly loose.

What makes “R.U.R.” so interesting is that its symbolism is wide open, meaning that it can be interpreted in any number of ways — as a satire of capitalism, a parable of the law of unintended consequences, even a critique of secular humanism and its discontents. What makes it so theatrically potent is that Capek (pronounced CHAH-puck) wrote it as a comedy that ends in apocalypse — or, in his words, “A Collective Drama in a Comic Prologue and Three Acts.” What makes this production so effective is that Shade Murray, the director, has contrived to give “R.U.R.” a contemporary, even postmodern tone without doing violence to its letter or spirit. Imagine a cross between “Ball of Fire” and “Night of the Living Dead” and you’ll get the idea: The costumes are quaint, the sets simple but implicitly futuristic, the between-scenes music space-age lounge. Stir in the brisk, witty performances of Mr. Murray’s superior cast and you get a show that is at once horrifying, entertaining and — forgive the cliché — genuinely thought-provoking.

(By the way, according to Wikipedia, a 35-minute adaptation of a portion of the play was broadcast on BBC Television in February, 1938–making it the first piece of television science fiction ever produced. A 90-minute adaptation followed in 1948.)

If you’re in Chicago and want to check it out, it runs Fridays through Sundays through October 25 at Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway St.

(Image: Strawdog Theatre Company.)

[tags]theatre, science fiction, robots, androids[/tags]

Be Sociable, Share!

3 Responses to “R.U.R.: the original of the robots, revived”

  1. Tom Marcinko says:

    I totally envy anybody who lives in Chicago.

  2. Lise A says:

    Hejsa!

    Evidence (a translated and bound script) suggests, that the play was performed in Denmark in the 80s. Unfortunately we don’t know much more than that.

  3. John Harrison says:

    I have, in fact, seen R.U.R on stage in a school production in about 1958 in the UK. What prompted me to look up your website was that I watched a fim screened on UK Channel 4 on Saturday 14th March 2009 called I, Robot starring Will Smith and Bridget Moynahan (I have no more details than that at present).
    It pretty quickly called to mind R.U.R. though, naturally, it didn’t end in disaster (with Will Smith in control, how could it?) and there was no credit for Karel Capek at the end.
    Does anyone know if there is a connection? My recollection of the play after fifty years is pretty sketchy.