April 29 2015 12:55 PM

Artificial intelligence cleverly portrayed at San Diego Repertory Theatre

Nick Cagle and Rosina Reynolds
Photo by Daren Scott

If thinking about artificial intelligence or the idea of downloading human consciousness freaks you out, or, if you’re prone to free-floating anxiety, Uncanny Valley probably isn’t for you. The questions Thomas Gibbons’ play raises about science, immortality and playing God are ominous ones.

But you really shouldn’t be unnerved by this futuristic one-act play, directed by Jessica Bird at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. (The Rep is one of four theaters nationwide that are simultaneously giving Uncanny Valley its world premiere.)

For all its seemingly incomprehensible explorations into the furthest possibilities of cybernetic life extension, Gibbons’ play is clever, affecting and human at its core. The consistently superb Rosina Reynolds portrays a veteran neuroscientist named Claire, who is shepherding the transition of a non-biological being called Julian from manmade robot into the “resurrected” existence of a dying millionaire. The first half of Uncanny Valley, which co-stars Nick Cagle as Julian, finds Claire teaching the aforementioned non-biological being how to move, speak and react like a 34-year-old man. Julian already seems capable of thinking for himself, and it doesn’t even feel as if Claire is talking to a robot. 

In the second half of the play, after the dead millionaire’s human consciousness has been downloaded into Julian, Uncanny Valley takes a sharp left turn and becomes a cautionary tale that’s as much about greed, ungrateful children and looming conscience as it is about the far reaches of neuroscience. It’s the evolution of Claire’s and Julian’s relationship, fraught with all of these consequences, that makes Uncanny Valley engrossing theater. Claire’s “What have I done?” moment may be predictable, but it still packs a wallop when it comes. In case you’re wondering, the concept of the “uncanny valley” (coined by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori) refers to the queasiness, even fear, we experience in the presence of almost-humanlike robots or computer animations.

We’re amused or even charmed by C3PO or Wall-E, but Uncanny Valley’s Julian, transformed from machine into man with all his calculations and imperfections, is too close to real for comfort.

Uncanny Valley runs through May 10 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, downtown. $31-$75. Sdrep.org

Theater reviews run weekly. Write to davidc@sdcitybeat.com.


Twelve Angry Women: Essentially the female version of Reginald Rose’s classic, 12 Angry Men, a dozen jurors find themselves conflicted on whether to sentence a man to death for murder. Adapted by Sherman Sergel, it opens on Thursday, April 30, at the Vassiliadis Family Black Box Theatre at USD in Linda Vista. sandiego.edu

Bingo: Hijinks ensue in this musical about three friends trying to make it to an annual celebration honoring the creator of the card-and-numbers game. Presented by PowPAC Community Theatre, it opens Friday, May 1, at the PowPAC Theatre in Poway. powpac.org

Rent: Based on Puccini’s famous opera, La Bohème, this highly successful musical is about young folks struggling to get by in New York City. Opens Thursday, May 1, at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.org

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown: A comedic musical featuring the beloved Peanuts comic strip characters. It opens for six performances on Saturday, May 2, at Patio Playhouse Community Theatre in Escondido. patioplayhouse.com

Unbroken Blossoms: A staged reading of Philip Chung’s play about the two Chinese men who were hired as consultants during the making of D.W. Griffith’s 1919 film, Broken Blossoms. Presented by San Diego REPertory Theatre, it happens at 7 p.m. Monday, May 4 at Lyceum’s Underground Stage in the Gaslamp Quarter. sdrep.org.

Occupy the Rice Fields: A one-woman comedic monologue from Aimee Greenberg about her travels in Bali. Takes place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella: The lavish Broadway musical about a young woman, evil stepsisters and some glass slippers that just won’t fit anyone else in town. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it opens Tuesday, May 5, at the Civic Theatre in Downtown. broadwaysd.com

Now Playing

The Balcony: Originally written by French political activist Jean Genet, this play tells the story of a dystopian society where people are controlled by corporations. Presented by Chronos Theatre Group, it runs through May 3 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in Downtown. chronostheatre.com

Big Fish: A musical based on the novel by Daniel Wallace and the motion picture by Tim Burton about a southern salesman who spins tall tales to his son throughout his life. Through May 3 at Coronado School of the Arts. cosasandiego.com.

Boeing Boeing: In this comical farce by Marc Camoletti, a scheming bachelor finds himself engaged to three different flight attendants only to find one day they’re all scheduled to arrive at his apartment at the same time. Through May 3 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com

Buyer & Cellar: A hit Off Broadway comedy about an unemployed actor who becomes Barbara Streisand’s personal shopkeeper. It runs through May 3 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org

The Great American Trailer Park Musical: A musical comedy about the colorful characters that inhabit Florida’s most exclusive trailer park, Armadillo Acres. Presented by the SDSU School of Theatre, it runs through May 3 at the Don Powell Theatre. ttf.sdsu.edu.

The Hallelujah Girls: The aging ladies of a small Southern town band together to improve their lives after losing a friend. Through May 3 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com

Lord of the Flies: A group of young boys regress into warring savages when their plan crash-lands on a deserted island. Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, it runs through May 3 at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org

The Normal Heart: Playwright Larry Kramer’s moving play about the rise of HIV/AIDS in ‘80s New York.  Through May 3 at MiraCosta College Theatre in Oceanside. hub.miracosta.edu/theatre.

Parallel Lives: Two women play 40 different characters in this sketch-style satire. Presented by Talent to aMuse Theatre Company, it runs through May 3 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center Forum Theatre in Downtown. talenttoamuse.com

Les Misérables: The musical story of an ex-convict trying to outrun his past against the backdrop of 19th Century France. Presented by Star Repertory Theatre, it runs through May 10 at The AVO Playhouse in Vista. starrepertorytheatre.com

Uncanny Valley: Set 40 years in the future, this world premiere play centers on a neuroscientist working to give humans immortality by downloading their thoughts and memories into an A.I. being. Through May 10 at Lyceum Space at Horton Plaza in Downtown. sdrep.org

Unnecessary Farce: A comical tale of an embezzling mayor trying to outrun his accountant, the law, and a couple of hitmen. Through May 10 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org

Freud’s Last Session: A fictional meeting between renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and novelist C.S. Lewis results in a lively discussion about love, war, sex and everything in between. Through May 17 at Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat: In a musical based on a biblical tale, a dude who has an “amazing” garment becomes a slave, but he triumphs in Egypt regardless. Presented by Lamb’s Players Theatre, it runs through May 31 at the Horton Grand Theatre, Downtown. lambsplayers.org