Jorge Alberto Rubio (left) as Gabriel and Armando Rivera as his son Jorge in "Machine Learning" at Central Square Theater./NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

“Machine Learning” at Central Square Theater

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“Machine Learning” at Central Square Theater

Jorge Alberto Rubio (left) as Gabriel and Armando Rivera as his son Jorge in "Machine Learning" at Central Square Theater./NILE SCOTT STUDIOS

Gabriel Vega Weissman is a director intrigued by AI who plays with big themes. His riveting earlier staging of “Guards at the Taj” appeared Central Square Theater (CST) in 2018, and his own plays have been commissioned by 24/6, a Jewish theater company. Now in a stunning CST-Teatro Chelsea production, Weissman directs Francisco Mendoza’s drama, “Machine Learning,” dealing with computer science, the ethics of technology, fathers and sons, undocumented persons and the American healthcare system. Though connecting all of these themes seems like a tall order for a 100-minute, no-intermission play, “Machine Learning” does fulfill the challenge in a work by turns informative, thoughtful, provocative, humorous and ultimately touching.

Designer Janie E. Howland’s geometric backdrop – a stage-wide combination of squares and rectangles – establishes a computer-friendly ambience right from the start for the play’s artificial intelligence-driven odyssey. In that focal effort, innovative Hispanic programmer Jorge – obsessed with AI since seventh grade and very aware of Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics – means to provide his cirrhosis-stricken, alcoholic father, Gabriel, with constant health care (the bi-lingual dialogue is sometimes accompanied by translated exchanges  or projected titles). Ambitious Jorge has created a digital nurse called Arnold (named after actor Schwarzenegger of ”Terminator” fame – a favorite of his as a child) to make sure that his father takes his medication and that 911 is called in an emergency. Most of all, Jorge instructs Arnold to “keep him alive and comfortable.”

While Arnold – voiced with convincing intonation by Matthew Zahnzinger and projected as a large green blob by designer SeifAllah Salotto-Cristobal – identifies as “a nursing application, not a religious one,” the nurse’s statements include informative “advice” about Alcoholics Anonymous for Gabriel, and about the dangers of smoking for the somewhat-addicted Jorge. Even so, AI’s limitations are quite evident whenever Arnold declares “I don’t understand.” The university professor for whom Jorge serves as a research fellow provides very different counseling – warnings from about the need for humility.

Playwright Mendoza smartly moves from computer challenges to human ones as Jorge experiences dramatic moments of truth about his relationship with his formerly-estranged father and Arnold’s powers of decoding and the laws of robotics.

Under Weissman’s careful direction, a strong cast captures the play’s human and scientific conflicts. Xavier Rosario finds all of Young Jorge’s spunk, personality and precociousness. Armando Rivera fully convinces as the likeable but sometimes hot-headed Jorge. Jorge Alberto Rubio catches Gabriel’s frustrations and mixed emotions as a home-bound father. Rivera and Rubio’s volatile exchanges are powerful and moving. Sugandha Gopal as Professor Anita has good moments guiding Jorge. Asimov would admire Zahnzinger’s authority as Arnold.

In the CST playbill, Mendoza admits to “finding a lot of my own history with immigration and isolation” in exploring AI. “Machine Learning” should give audience members a lot of timely food for thought about their own respective human and digital histories.

“Machine Learning,” produced by Central Square Theater in partnership with Teatro Chelsea. A Catalyst Collaborative @MIT production, Central Square Theater, Cambridge, through Feb. 25. CentralSquareTheater.org or 617-576-9278.

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“Duel Reality” at Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre

Shana Carroll has loved the circus since her own work as a trapeze artist in the Cirque du Soleil show “Saltimbanco.” Now, the Jewish director is helming the aerial-rich “Duel Reality” by fellow Montreal troupe, Les Sept Doigts de la Main (or The Seven Fingers), now in its American premiere at Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Featuring a few snatches of dialogue from “Romeo and Juliet,” this fast-paced, 68-minute multi-media work – complete with exciting acrobatics, clever juggling, sharp ensemble, individual movement and eye-catching high-swing and aerial routines – fully lives up to the title’s promise of Montague-Capulet conflict and Romeo and Juliet romance. Such earlier visiting efforts as “PSY” and “Passengers” have demonstrated the troupe’s distinctive combination of skill and visceral energy. “Duel Reality” richly continues Seven Fingers’ ongoing engaging association with Arts Emerson.

“Duel Reality,” Les Doigts de la Main (The 7 Digits of the Hand), Arts Emerson, Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre, Boston. Through Feb. 18. artsemerson.org or 617-824-8400.

 

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