Ada, Soon - The Underlings Theatre Company
Ada, Soon – The Underlings Theater Company
review by James Wilkinson
No one goes to a play about living in a post-apocalypse wasteland expecting a cheery affair. Certainly I did not. When I walked into The Underlings Theatre Co.’s production of Ada, Soon this past weekend at the Space Studio in Somerville, a general idea about the set-up was all I had. That and a production image of their lead actress posing in a silver hazmat suit.
It is the kind of viewing experience where you (or, at least, I) walk into a theatre and say, “Alright…show me what you’ve got.” How wonderful then, to find that the company in question is more than up to the challenge. The distinct sense of dread that (I imagine) would come with surviving the apocalypse is invoked in the environment around the performance space. To get to your seat you walk along corridors made of blue tarps, illuminated with industrial lights. The space is cramped. Discordant sounds play on the speakers. You’re enveloped with the distinct feeling that something terrible has happened.
Written and directed by Lelaina Vogel, the play’s plot could read as a lost episode of The Twilight Zone. A young woman, Ada (Olivia Caputo) is holed up in a basement sometime after a world-wide disaster. The environment outside the room is toxic, probably from some kind of nuclear fall-out. Basic commodities like food and water are in short supply. Her only companion is her robot, Karel (Adam Preston), and their only entertainment is a battered copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest which they attempt to act out. The trouble is that although Karel can perform basic human actions, (walking, talking and securing the door), the ability to understand and recreate human emotions is a bit beyond his grasp. This makes him a less than ideal actor, much to the increasing chagrin of Ada. Into this partnership, a third party is thrown. Another woman, Gaia (Madeline Sosnowski), appears at the door of the bunker, seeking shelter, paralyzed (apparently) from exposure to the radiation outside. She too is desperate to end her loneliness, and it just so happens that her favorite play is The Tempest.
Like The Twilight Zone, Lelaina Vogel knows that she can use this scenario to play out a variety of different themes and ideas. (In other words, it’s about the apocalypse…but it’s not REALLY about the apocalypse.) The difference is that while Rod Sterling would use his platform to address social issues (racism, McCarthyism, Soviet nuclear paranoia, etc.), Vogel is exploring our basic need for human connection and what role art can play in that endeavor. Watching Ada try to explain to Karel how to act out Prospero leads to some of the plays funniest bits, but there is a sadness underneath. She is using Shakespeare’s play to try and recreate the humanity she has lost in the world around her. As that humanity is denied to her again and again, you understand her destructive act in the final moments of the play. Given the scenario, wouldn’t we all grasp for what appears to be our last hope?
If I am making the piece seem like a somber play of ideas, it’s not. Vogel’s actors do a tremendous job finding the different possible layers in their characters, particularly in extracting the much-needed humor. And although some may classify the ending as a tragedy, I think play instead points towards a more hopeful ending. That although humanity’s time on the planet may be limited, the art we leave behind may have the power to teach even the inhuman, how to grow.
For a first production by a new company, it is remarkably sure-footed. After working with Shakespeare’s text in an indirect way, The Underlings next production will tackle it head on in Romeo and Juliet. I think that they are up to the task.
More information about The Underlings Theatre Co. may be found at their website