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Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War

This unusual story set in a much-transformed United States leaves audiences wanting more.

Stephanie Wright Thompson and Joe Curnutte
in Samuel & Alasdair
(© Ian Saville)
At just 75 minutes, it feels like there was a lot left out of Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, now at the New Ohio Theatre.

Immediately, the audience is thrown into a strange world where the Soviets have emerged the victors of the cold war after a robot uprising sweeps across what used to be the United States. Only faint clues exist of this reality though, and some of the most pertinent information is played as throwaway lines, so be alert.

Even before the lights go down there's plenty to take in. Large boxes with red Russian print line one wall of the theater while another is marked with Soviet slogans and an old coat rack, transporting the whole basement space into this alternate universe. Set designer Laura Jellinek uses old wooden furniture, frayed oriental rugs, and electronics that are woefully outdated to create the small town radio station that broadcasts a variety show rooted in 1950s Americana.

On the day we get a glimpse of the At Home Field Guide in action, the central story, told by the host (Joe Curnutte) along with contributors Dr. Mischa Romanav (Marc Bovino) and Anastasia Volinski (Stephanie Wright Thompson), focuses on a love triangle between two brothers and the girl next door who live in middle America on the eve of the robot war that would wipe out them and the rest of the country.

Curnutte and Bovino, who are also the playwrights, play off each other nicely. Curnette, as the older brother Alasdair, is a boisterous hulk of a guy who takes what he wants while Bonvino, as his younger brother Samuel, admires from afar. The object of both of their affections is Susie, a simple yet charming girl played by Thompson.

The story unfolds in a rather predictable manner, which lets us shift our focus to the characters of the radio show, who despite projecting energetic vibes over the airwaves, are much more sullen and tied into themselves in real life. Romanav, for example, quietly lusts after Volinski. So quietly, in fact that no one knows about it.

The three awkwardly tip toe across the studio as they perform their duties while their musical director/guitarist, Alexei "Tumbleweed" Petrovya (Michael Dalto) sits stoically in a chair stage right playing interludes and snippets from songs like "Back in the Saddle" and "Hey Good Lookin.'"

There's an eerie warmth that comes from this juxtaposition and from being spoken to by characters whose reality is that we've all been annihilated by robots. Director and co-conceiver Lila Neugebauer has crafted a rich atmosphere where it's easy to forget we haven't left Manhattan.

Yet, there's something left wanting. The play doesn't end so much as flicker out with many unanswered questions about the robot war, the radio show, and the rest of this dystopic world.


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