As imagined by Max Posner, the future will be nothing like The Jetsons.
Technology and fashion won't change much in the next 25 years, but our collective mental health and ability to communicate will significantly deteriorate. That seems to be the unspoken premise behind Max Posner's Judy, now making its world premiere with Page 73 at the New Ohio Theatre. It's not the bright new world of tomorrow imagined by Walt Disney, nor is it an Orwellian nightmare. Rather, Posner offers something far blander, but perhaps more realistic: a stagnated version of today.
The story revolves around an extended family living on the outskirts of an unnamed American city circa 2040. Middle sister Tara (Birgit Huppuch) is a cult leader. Her younger brother Timothy (Danny Wolohan) is on the precipice of divorce to his wife, Judy; the prospect of single fatherhood is making him increasingly erratic. Kris (Deirdre O'Connell) still lives with the memory of her boyfriend who perished in a yoga-related mass murder. Naturally, she's the most balanced of the bunch and the only one not rearing children. Tara's son Kalvin (Luka Kain) and Timothy's daughter Eloise (Frenie Acoba) are both adopted, quietly surviving an adolescence surrounded by white people with personality disorders.
At the very least, a lifetime of refreshing Facebook has atrophied the communication skills of these middle-aged millennials, all of whom struggle to find the words they need to interact with other human beings face to face. In that respect, Posner has crafted hyper-realistic dialogue: These people are halting and inarticulate, regularly stumbling over one another's sentences.
Those repelled by the in-your-face horror show that is Philip Ridley's Mercury Fur will find a more pleasantly milquetoast dystopia in Judy. Arnulfo Maldonado's set is the most terrifying thing here: One subterranean room with beige carpet and sparsely positioned furniture plays the part of three separate homes, suggesting that the characters all reside in indistinguishable habitats. It looks like the basement of a McMansion in an exurb of Cincinnati. This represents a depressing regression, a backlash against what appears to be a current trend toward customization and urban renewal.
Repairman Markus (a sympathetic and cuddly Marcel Spears) signifies something of a lateral move vis-à-vis technology. Every time The System (a more fully comprehensive Internet that touches every aspect of domestic life) goes down in someone's home, he rushes there to fix it. One would hope these things could be done remotely by 2040.
The one unadulterated ray of hope Posner extends is through the children: Despite the abundance of electronics at their disposal, Eloise and Kalvin are not sunken-eyed zombies. They engage in a séance to conjure the spirit of the yoga killer in one of the most memorable scenes of the play. Appropriately conspiratorial in their interaction, Acoba and Kain perform this with a committed idiosyncrasy that will make you want to believe in ghosts, a spirit realm, and yoga — anything but the boring safety of suburbia.
You may notice a distinctive lack of plot in this review because there's little to report. The siblings call each other. Eloise gets her first period. Tara dreams up her new gospel. Everyone remains firmly glued to their computer screens. It's all very banal and never really goes anywhere. Judy is a throwback to the absurdism of Samuel Beckett and Jean Genet: Not much happens, meaning that the experience is contingent upon interesting performances that can illuminate the linguistic gems buried in the text.
Under the artfully understated direction of Ken Rus Schmoll, the cast succeeds in making Posner's awkward prose feel natural. Huppuch's Tara always seems on the verge of a false epiphany or an epic meltdown. Wolohan's wide eyes and inappropriate smile give him the look of a truly crazy person. Neither of them seems to be truly listening to the people around them. O'Connell's Kris is the most relatable, speaking and moving with guarded measure that seems alien in this time of de rigueur oversharing.
The performers keep our attention, but the end result feels hollow and unenlightening. We know there are no surprises in Judy, just two hours of everyday dullness. If that sounds like your kind of theater, this is the play for you.