Wolf Entertainm Guide
May 1, 2005
First staged in 1921, Czech author Karel Capek’s futuristic play “R.U.R.,” which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots, offered a prophetic view of a mechanized society in which robots are produced in such numbers that they begin to take over the world. It is quite an amazing play for its time, and a forerunner of similar ideas expressed in the arts. The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) provided a service in presenting this work (April 30-May 2, 2005) for its final reading performances of the season. As usual, the TACT acting was at a high level and the aura of the trauma described in the play was convincingly established despite the simplicity of the mounting. The play was done on Broadway in 1922 and 1942.
If one thinks of the general period in which Capek’s drama appeared, one can recall about five years later the creation of the film “Metropolis” foreseeing the disastrous effects of industrial mechanization threatening to robotize human beings. Later in the century Stanley Kubruck’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” had a situation in which the computer Hal revolts.
In “R.U.R.,” tautly directed by Scott Alan Evans, Helena Glory, played luminously by Kelly Hutchinson, comes to the R.U.R. factory on the remote island where robots are being produced with the do-gooder intention of trying to get the makers to stop on the ground that it is inhuman to be making these creatures. She is concerned with the welfare of the robots. Things do not go as planned. Harry Domin, authoritatively portrayed by Victor Slezak and the one in charge, sweeps Helena off her feet with a marriage proposal, which she resists at first, but succumbs to when informed she must marry one of the manufacturing entourage, as all have fallen in love with her. She has a difficult time realizing that the robots are merely machines without any human qualities.
Or are they? As the play progresses over a span of 11 years, the plan to free humans to enjoy life without work if enough robots are created backfires. It seems robots can have human reactions after all and word comes of rebellion against their human exploiters in cities around the world. An army of them are closing in on the R.U.R. facility and the lives of everyone are in immediate danger.
Capek’s vision of course, raises broad questions of how science can be used for good or evil. It is still timely, if one thinks about nuclear proliferation and how the dropping of atom bombs in World War II may yet come back to haunt humankind with widespread devastation or even destruction of the world as we know it.
The entire cast was effective, whether portraying the humans or the robots, and although the play at times becomes pedantic, it still packs the power to present a chilling scenario that one can accept while being drawn into its fascinating premise. Reviewed at Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street. For more information on TACT, phone 212-645-8228 or click on www.tactnyc.org.