Wednesday, November 5, 2014

8th Canadian Challenge - 7th review - Scientific Americans

I only just found out about John Mighton a week or so ago.  He is involved in math education and apparently still lives in Toronto.  He also has written a few plays that examine the role of science in society. A Short History of the Night is basically about the reception of Kepler's ideas and how unsettling they were, and how some tried to suppress them.  (Of course, this is pretty much the same theme as Brecht's Galileo.)  His best-known play, Possible Worlds, is going to be put on at Stratford and it looks quite intriguing, as it incorporates science and philosophy.  This joins Travelling Light and Now Then Again as a handful of plays that explore how parallel universes or reverse time travel might occur, more as a metaphorical device than anything.  None of them really are asserting that if you do this, you'll meet your mirror-image twin.  Anyway, I'm trying not to find out too much about the play, as I think I'll be seeing it this summer. 

However, I had no reservations about reading Scientific Americans, which is basically a story of a couple where Jim, a physicist, starts working for the Army and his finance, who is a computer scientist, starts to become radicalized and turns against the military-industrial complex.  My general feeling is that this is a play that would definitely work better on the stage than on the page.  This is particularly the case for when the physicist meets some intense characters at work who try to get him involved in their projects.  I could sense Mighton was going for a X-Files vibe, but the actual dialogue is fairly pedestrian.


While it is not impossible to meet such a person, it is a little difficult to believe that the finance, Carol, is going to turn so quickly against the military and military research.  Most computer scientists are a bit more pragmatic, especially seeing how much computer technology originated with the military.  But to totally wig out over the fact that stealth fighters are going to be built and that Jim had a tiny, largely unexplained role in this seems unlikely.

I think my bigger objection is that I just never bought into them as a healthy, functioning couple.  Maybe it would require a play twice as long for her to gradually become estranged, but here she goes really cold on him almost immediately after he takes the job, then calls him up at work and basically entices him home with phone sex.  Then the next time they get together he ends up throwing wine in her face (very uncool and something that probably should be edited out) and then she tries to sabotage his job by baking cookies shaped like the stealth bombers.  Now I do remember that stealth bombers were pretty secret for about a year or so, and then there were pictures and within a year or two you could get model planes shaped like them.  So eventually the Air Force turned it towards positive PR for themselves.  That isn't to say that given the high levels of security and paranoia Jim wouldn't have lost his job had his boss actually seen one of these cookies. (Now why Jim would be working on something for the Air Force at an Army installation is one of many small details that I think Mighton really didn't think through.)

But the bigger issue is that I just never really believed them as a functional couple.  Granted there is a lot of theatre built around dysfunctional couples, but I thought Mighton was going after something else, showing how the two gradually fell out of sync over Jim's work.  However, I didn't see nearly enough to be convinced that they were right for each other in the first place.

I suspect that a solid majority of theatre goers, particularly in Canada, will root for Carol and think Jim is a jerk for working for the Army in the first place.  Maybe I am wrong, but I felt Mighton was stacking the deck that way and not being even-handed enough.  I suppose more than anything I thought he was being kind of lazy in his thinking about what Jim should be doing with his life.  (I'd say the movie Real Genius has some of these same biases in that the teacher decides to steal the kids' laser and present it to the military, and ultimately everything military-related is deeply tainted in the movie, which at least has the advantage of being quite funny.)  Maybe my time at RAND rubbed off on me a bit after all, and I don't automatically think of people who work for the Department of Defense as monsters.

The bottom line is that, obviously, I wasn't terribly impressed with this play.  I suspect A Short History of the Night is more to my taste and from what little I have read about it Possible Worlds would be as well.

No comments:

Post a Comment