The Kansas City debut of Rob Merritt’s “The Summerland Project” opened at the Olathe Civic Theatre Association (OCTA) for a three-weekend run through June 21 and explores some science fiction twists to current medical technology.
The show takes pieces of several precursors and re-crafts them into an original play that goes beyond previous incarnations of re-creation and artificial intelligence. Take the best parts of Frankenstein, Flowers for Algernon, The Stepford Wives, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Add to that computer technology, medical technology, a writer’s imagination, and a new concept for where technology may lead. Shake it all up, and out comes the new play, Merritt’s “The Summerland Project.”
OCTA’s version used some beautiful technology and video projection to tell the story and piece the scenes together. Give a lot of credit to the video creation. That piece looked as professional as something seen on TV’s nightly news shows. Multimedia designer, J. Patrick Inlow deserves accolades for that piece. Rarely does the A/V work stand out in a play. In this case it does.
The play, directed by Patrick Poe begins with a young woman, Amelia Summerland, played by Sommer Brechiesen, who suffers a near fatal accident. Her body almost dies, but with consent of her husband, Carter, played by Artem Bagdasaryan, she is rewarded with a second life as part of an experiment by the Wesley Foundation. The foundation scans and recreates her brain. In the process, body parts are replaced, and she slowly becomes a live “person.” The question: Is she still Amelia or is she merely a robotic “Amelia”? The answer gets complicated when she takes on human mannerisms and traits, like joking, sarcasm, thinking, and reasoning. The bigger question is: Does she manifest real feelings and emotions? Another question: How far is this from reality?
In the talk-back after the show, Merritt said that the technology is already underway to simulate a human brain. Where that leads is, indeed, something for medical technology to ponder and consider. He said sometimes society creates something and later learns what complications were not considered. His examples were the atomic bomb and the internet.
The cast included: Artem Bagdasaryan, Sommer Brechiesen, Anita Meehan, Derrick Freeman, Ted Collins, David Innis, and Laura Burt. The creative team was: Patrick Poe, director; Rebekah Grieb, stage manager; Jo Bledsoe, assistant stage manager and costume design; Aaron Roose, set design; J. Patrick Insow, lighting and A/V design; and Vicky DeLaughder, props design.
The show definitely targets science-fiction minded people. The play blends reality with “what if” scenarios. The many scene changes per act, though, needs some re-thinking and crafting. The show moves, but is segmented with too many small scenes. Act I is laborious at times getting the premise established and characters set in motion. The video projection helps with that but work needs to continue on a smoother more entrapping opening act.
Great performances came from Brechiesen, Meehan and Collins. They established their characters and developed them well. Also of note, Bagdasaryn gave a good performance, but the script and staging does not allow his full character development to occur because he is out of the audience’s field of vision during critical pieces–most notable the TV cast that shows the robot and gives her human characteristics.
Another note: Sound was difficult to hear at times. The video could be turned up so that the audience in the wing sections could hear and understand better. Also, at times when the actors’ back was turned to parts of the audience, dialogue was lost. Those are technical problems that just a small tweak here or there could correct.
“The Summerland Project” continues weekends at OCTA through June 21. Evening performances begin at 8 p.m. Matinees begin at 2 p.m. For tickets call the box office at (913) 782-2990 or go to the OCTA website. The theatre is located at 500 E. Loula
Olathe, KS 66061, about 20 minutes southwest of downtown Kansas City, Missouri and within the Kansas City Metro area.