If thinking about artificial intelligence or the idea of downloading human consciousness freaks you out, or, if youre prone to free-floating anxiety, Uncanny Valley probably isnt for you. The questions Thomas Gibbons play raises about science, immortality and playing God are ominous ones.
But you really shouldnt 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 doesnt even feel as if Claire is talking to a robot.
In the second half of the play, after the dead millionaires human consciousness has been downloaded into Julian, Uncanny Valley takes a sharp left turn and becomes a cautionary tale thats as much about greed, ungrateful children and looming conscience as it is about the far reaches of neuroscience. Its the evolution of Claires and Julians relationship, fraught with all of these consequences, that makes Uncanny Valley engrossing theater. Claires What have I done? moment may be predictable, but it still packs a wallop when it comes. In case youre 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.
Were amused or even charmed by C3PO or Wall-E, but Uncanny Valleys 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
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