Review: Dark play 'R.U.R.' staged at SCPA

The progress of mankind and the dangers of technological innovation are themes often explored by writers and mediums of all types—be it George Orwell’s  “1984”or the science fiction movie “I, Robot.” But the School of Creative and Preforming Arts returned to the roots of the genre with a dark and thrilling production of “R.U.R.”  (“Rossum’s Universal Robots”), which takes on the struggle to balance desire for improvement with the morality of humans.

“R.U.R.” was originally written in Czech by Karel Capek, and premiered in 1921. This play is considered a vanguard of the science fiction genre—in fact, it introduced the word “robot” to the English language. It tells the story of a factory that makes artificial people, who are exactly like humans except that they have no emotions or souls. Eventually, the robots begin to develop their own thoughts and plan a revolution against mankind.

The relatively small ensemble showcased remarkable consistency, remaining in character even with moving set pieces. The actors interacted well with each other, appearing natural and convincing in their characters, and impressively handled the challenge of memorizing a great deal of lines.

Olaf Eide, who played Harry Domin, excellently conveyed the change as his confident and quick-talking façade crumbled under the pressure of his own guilt. His love interest, Helena, was portrayed by Drue Larkin, whose passionate musings, worried expressions and sweet charm added a hopeful yet naïve tone to the production. Cameron Baker’s tortured expressions, weary movements and dramatic delivery captivated the audience as Alquist, who endures the victory of the robots to find new hope for mankind.

Fabry was played by Mallory Kraus, who showed dedication to remaining in character with her inquisitive looks, slumped shoulders and neurotic twitches that continued even when she was not a part of the main action. Henry McKenzie, who played Busman, had a refreshingly sharp cynicism as he delivered his well-timed comments. Izzy Viox’s (Nana) crotchety tone, convincing posture and yells of “Praise Jesus” brought comedic relief to the dark plot. The robots provided a contrast to the emotions of the humans; the dead stares, monotone speech and stiff motions were impressive and convincing.

The play also excelled technically. The lighting by Lucas Clark, Scott Neal and Silas Sheckels set the mood for each scene and brought attention to different parts of the stage.  It was particularly notable during a scene involving the orange glow from a fireplace. Caitlin Halpin and Kaitlyn Funck showed expertise with well-fitting and period appropriate costumes. Izzy Viox demonstrated her grasp of the theme with makeup that represented the humanity of the characters with blue eye-shadowed humans and metallic skinned robots. 

Although the classic theme has been portrayed many times, the School of Creative and Preforming Arts’ production of “R.U.R.” excellently conveyed the dual nature of technology and humanity, progress and regression, and despair and hope.

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