Wednesday, November 21, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 37
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Santa Maria Sun / Art

The following article was posted on March 21st, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 3 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 3

PCPA explores humanity and technology with 'Watson Intelligence'

By JOE PAYNE

If you're expecting to see Sherlock Holmes in The Pacific Conservatory Theatre PCPA production of The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, don't hold your breath.

Catch the show
The Pacific Conservatory Theatre PCPA presents its production of Madeleine George’s The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence showing March 23 at 7 p.m., March 24 at 1:30 and 7 p.m., and March 25 at 1:30 p.m. at the Severson Theatre, 800 S. College, Santa Maria. More info: (805) 922-8313 or pcpa.org.

That's because the play really isn't about him, but rather Dr. John Watson, his longtime sidekick. Well, the play really isn't about just that Watson either.

The script is the creation of Madeleine George, who saw the play become a Pulitzer Prize finalist and win the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Playwriting Award. The plot weaves together four Watsons (Jeff Salsbury), some fictional and others inspired by real life, across different timelines along with the characters Eliza (Amani Dorn) and Merrick (Tim Fullerton). All three characters are somehow linked, yet different.

Sound confusing? I sure was when I read the description of the play, but once the show began, all ambiguity vanishes for what is truly a pleasant surprise of a production.

The present day Eliza sits on a couch, chatting it up with Watson, whose back is turned to most of the Severson Theatre's audience. It doesn't take long to get the idea that Watson is not a very emotional guy, but that's when Eliza turns his chair around, revealing the glowing emblem in the "man's" chest.


HUMAN CONNECTION
In the Pacific Conservatory Theatre PCPA production of 'The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,' Jeff Salsbury and Amani Dorn play a few characters, including the artificial intelligence programmer Eliza and her android prototype Watson.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

Watson—at least this Watson—is an android. She's working on his programming, his ability to respond and understand, and she's cussing up a storm as she talks comfortably with the robot. We'll later learn that this Eliza was part of the IBM team that designed Watson, the supercomputer that beat out Jeopardy! champs. She's working to create the perfect assistant for the infirm, the disenfranchised, or the lonely, all with idealistic motives.

But that's not the only Eliza, or the only Watson, as I said before.

The scenes change with tricks of light, and ensemble (student) actors helping with costume changes, bits of music, or sound effects, and we're transported through space and time.

The android Watson is no longer, but instead it's the bespectacled and mustachioed character from Arthur Conan Doyle, pacing about an office. Eliza returns, but this time she's wearing petticoats instead of sweatpants, and a flowing dress of auburn. She asks for the famous Sherlock Holmes, but he's not there, and Watson endeavors to help her.

Dorn's Eliza tells Salsbury's concerned Watson that her husband, Merrick (Tim Fullerton), a prominent industrialist and inventor, is acting strangely. She has also noticed curious puncture marks in her skin that appear after a night's sleep. She wants Holmes to investigate, and moves to leave when it's only Watson at her disposal, but then just about faints from stress.

In a heartfelt scene, we learn a lot about Watson as he wins over Eliza by helping her through her dizzy spell. Salsbury and Dorn are completely in the moment with this scene, which is just beginning to explore the connection these two will have with other Watsons and Elizas.


PRESCIENT PLAY
Tim Fullerton plays Merrick in PCPA’s 'The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,' who’s both a 19th century industrialist/inventor as well as a modern day political candidate and divorcé in the timeturning play.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LUIS ESCOBAR/REFLECTIONS PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO

Back in the present day, we have a complete reversal of the previous situation. Merrick is no industrialist, but a simple candidate for city auditor, who calls an IT guy, Josh Watson, to fix his computer.

Merrick commands his scenes as the boisterous antagonist, who's possessed by angry idealism and anger at his recent divorce from Eliza, the programmer. He hires Watson to follow his ex, who he's sure was cheating on him, because he finds Watson a "trustable guy."

All of these stories weave together, along with one last Watson from the historical record, to explore the human connection in a world dominated by technology. It's easy to forget that there are only three principal actors in the show. Dorn, Salsbury, and Fullerton completely take over the small space at the Severson and lead an audience through a journey of interwoven conflicts and connections.

In a world where technological innovations seek to bring us closer together, and continually drive us apart, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence is an impressive contemplation on the human condition. PCPA's programming is incredibly prescient. The play explores some lofty ideas, but the heart of it beats with the immediate efficacy of live theater.

Managing Editor Joe Payne always appreciated Watson, since he was in elementary. Contact him at jpayne@santamariasun.com.




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