Chicago Theater Review: STOP. RESET. (Goodman)

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by Lawrence Bommer on June 2, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

WINDOWS ZERO

This could have been a conversation. Employing flashy strips of LED lights, twelve video monitors, and digitalized backdrops, Goodman artistic associate Regina Taylor’s stop. reset. asks an interesting if not original question: What have books become? Is the act of reading hand-held, unconnected tomes selfish and anti-social? Does this show of independence cut us off from the sticky Web that continually commands our multi-tasking attention? When books present the past as present, do they break our virtual (and lesser) link to the constantly updating websites of a fiercely mutating Internet? Do printed pages deserve a future, fragmenting our already divided consciousness? Is Kindle king?

Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Edgar Sanchez (J) in stop. reset.

Set strangely in late 2016, the one-act, 145-minute Chicago premiere happens in the long-established African-American publishing company of Alexander Ames, located at 901 S. Michigan Avenue. With his son dead and his wife on an endless pilgrimage in Africa, the 70-year-old South Side printing mogul has watched his revered company reduced by a merger to a subsidiary of a larger firm. That conglomerate now demands a plan for profit or Ames’ company will die. It’s “e-books” or no books. Maybe relocating to Detroit is the answer. (Strangely and sadly, the authors who would be silenced by the firm’s failure play no part in this hermetically sealed hothouse world.)

Eric Lynch (Chris), Jacqueline Williams (Jan), Tim Decker (Tim) and Lisa Tejero (Deb) in stop. reset.

But this crisis we’re asked to care about is really a smokescreen for Taylor’s addlepated agenda. Though there are six characters, only two matter: The play is just an excuse for a very predictable clash between Ames’ old-school work ethic of “integrity” and service and the bold challenge presented by a potent trickster. This “disrupter” arrives in the form of a punk-like, 19-year-old janitor simply named J. His reduced name is one indication that he may have arrived from or lives in a holographic future 500 years ahead. In short order this young avatar opens up a mumbo-jumbo digital portal for Ames to a time when one person’s entire mind (and possibly soul) can be uploaded into another’s cerebral circuitry. Immortality means you’re a meme in someone’s memory. That, J offers, is the only solution to achieving the book publisher’s dream of continuity and relevance. (Well, as Melville’s alienated scrivener Bartleby memorably put it, “I would prefer not to.”)

Edgar Sanchez (J) and Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) in stop. reset. written and directed by Regina Taylor at Goodman Theatre

By the play’s preposterous end the question of what will happen to the founder and his four generically diverse employees (who he promises not to fire, then does) is abandoned in favor of a futuristic plot twist that comes out of nowhere and takes us there.

All the elaborately integrated film and video pulsating through Riccardo Hernandez’ modular and electrifying set, all the naturalistic dialogue suggesting that these characters actually count, all the discursive, poorly-focused performances in the author’s staging of this mixed-media mashup–it’s all sound and fury signifying nothing. (I considerately left out “a tale told by an idiot.”) Everything except the less than original debate between J and Ames about how words will look if they survive the future is maddeningly arbitrary and random. The play disintegrates into its own pixels.

Edgar Sanchez (J), Tim Decker (Tim), Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames), Lisa Tejero (Deb) and Jacqueline Williams (Jan) in stop. reset.

Eugene Lee brings foxy rectitude to his stentorian Ames and young Edgar Miguel Sanchez conveys a bit of tantalizing mystery as time-traveling J. The wonderful, wasted actors who play employees unable to stick together as their security unravels are Tim Decker as a hapless white liberal with useless seniority, Eric Lynch as a team-playing and ultimately backstabbing colleague, Lisa Tejero as a too-token Asian associate, and Jacqueline Williams, trying not to get laughs as a saucy survivor.

Tim Decker (Tim) in stop. reset. written and directed by Regina Taylor at Goodman Theatre.

This half-baked drama badly needs the “Esc” button. All means and no end, Taylor’s post-post-post-Gutenberg meditation raises a few intriguing questions, then kills them off. It prefers a Matrix-style cop-out to any systematic dialectic about the evolution and value of literacy and legacies. The fact that the company is African American is condescending and irrelevant–it could be any book publishing company facing an uncertain future. What really hurts is that Taylor doesn’t deliver a plot that could make these ideas “fly.” She just pulls out the plug. (Oh–if you sit in the balcony, you’re allowed to Twitter. I rest my case.)

Stop. Reset.–indeed.

Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Edgar Sanchez (J) in stop. reset. at Goodman Theatre.

photos by Liz Lauren

stop. reset.
Goodman Theatre
Owen Theatre, 170 North Dearborn
scheduled to end on June 21, 2015
for tickets, call 312.443.3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org

for info on more Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

A Burns June 3, 2015 at 9:18 am

My sentiments exactly! Thank you!

Reply

Bill June 9, 2015 at 8:28 pm

Could not agree more.

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