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.)
“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]