by CHRISTINE SARKES
The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, a 2014 finalist for Pulitzer Prize for Drama at Park Square Theatre, is truly a curious case. It is a lightly entertaining and well-acted confusing mix of steampunk meets Sci-Fi time travel meets Sex and the City. The website’s synopsis won’t help much either: “Four Watsons: trusty sidekick to Sherlock Holmes; loyal engineer who built Bell’s first telephone; unstoppable super-computer that became reigning “Jeopardy” champ; amiable techno-dweeb just looking for love. This brilliantly witty, time-jumping, loving tribute is dedicated to the people – and machines – upon which we depend.” Suffice it to say that I love Park Square’s willingness to produce unique theater fare and genre-busting plays.
The play stars three amiable and entertaining actors (Kathryn Fumie, H. Adam Harris and Adam Whisner) who play all the characters that jump through different time periods. These are centered on four characters named Watson and the advancement of cutting-edge technologies. The theme weaving throughout seems to be that technological advances are good as long as they don’t impede personal interactions and effective, real communication.There are allusions to current political themes, relationship issues and gender equality, but the first act closing and play ending are abrupt and these themes dangle unresolved, in my opinion.
We begin in present day, where Eliza (Kathryn Fumie) is developing a prototype of Watson, an experiment in artificial intelligence. Eliza’s eventual new love interest, a “dweeb squad” computer geek is also named Watson (H. Adam Harris). This last Watson is assigned to repair the computer belonging to Merrick (Adam Whisner), a candidate for city auditor. Merrick and Eliza have recently separated, and in his desperation, Merrick hires Watson to tail his wife. The play jumps to 1891, and Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes’s assistant, embroils himself in another couple’s difficult marriage. In 1931, we meet another Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, who gives an interview about the invention of the telephone. We follow these stories as they unfold and intersect. The staging and costume changes are cleverly done as the actors shift time periods and characters in quick succession.
The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, by Madeleine George, directed by Leah Cooper, stage managed by Amanda K. Bowman. April 7 – 30 at Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, Downtown St. Paul, 20 West Seventh Place, St. Paul. Tickets at 651.291.7005 or www.parksquaretheatre.org.