A female scientist, a poetic script, gizmos, and an intellectual romance—“Futurity” has everything a hipster intellectual could ask for. Directed by Sarah Benson and running until April 15 at OBERON, “Futurity” features music from the band The Lisps and a script written by its frontman César Alvarez. The show revolves around the cast’s magnetic stage presence which, when combined with an innovative set design, makes this show a quirky musical triumph.
Set during the American Civil War, “Futurity” is a clever sci-fi musical that incorporates folksy songs by the aforementioned band into the plotline. The protagonist Julian Munro (César Alvarez) is an optimistic inventor and soldier who hopes to construct a machine that brings about peace. “There’s a war that I’ll solve with the twist of a knob,” he sings when he begins to dream up the idea for his machine.
Opposite him is Ada Lovelace (Sammy Tunis), the soulful and sexy scientist. Clad in red lipstick, purple high-heeled shoes, and a dress made out of gauze, Tunis manages to make science alluring by crooning about mathematical equations while writing on her chalkboard. The romance that ensues between Munro and her is grounded in intellect—they first meet when she agrees to help him build his machine. As the work progresses their courtship blossoms despite their long distance relationship—facilitated by letters, carried diagonally by clothesline from the lower stage to the upper banisters—and the disapproval of Ada’s Mother, Lady Byron (Anne Gottlieb.)
The most innovative part of the production is the set. Designer David Israel Raynoso built the set primarily out of found objects piled atop industrial equipment. This contraption not only hides the musical instruments from the audience, but also acts as an instrument of percussion in itself, as musicians bang on its sides during the musical numbers. The audience sits at tables scattered in the middle of the venue, while the action takes place on all sides. This back-and-forth style of following the dialogue and musical discourse allows the audience to engage with the cast members, letting them see every wrinkle and bead of sweat in the actor’s facial expressions.
The chorus members, in their navy blue, suspendered attire, manage to capture a sense of individuality while still working as a cohesive whole, especially in accordance with the intimate setup. Alvarez’s direction of the chorus is spotless, with beautiful harmonies that transition from a whisper to a shout. They also play their outragious characterizations to hilarious effect. One scene in particular has the chorus acting as a community of scientists that that might provide Munro with crucial fundng for his project. With bedsheets wrapped ornately around their heads and pompous foreign accents, they saunter around the balcony, loudly clearing their throats in a parody of close-minded intellectuals.
The music is refreshingly diverse. Using anything from a tuba to a tin can to produce sound, the musicians’ clanging and shouting juxtaposes nicely with the complex lyrics of scientific inquiries. Instead of complicated choreography, the actors movements are beautifully simple and subtle, for in such a small space a conflicted glance from Tunis or the swig from a metal flask can speak volumes.
One of the notable performances is from the General (Edwin Lee Gibson.) With a voice not too dissimilar from Samuel Jackson’s, he provided a brilliant counterpoint to Alvarez. His practicality, contrasted with Munro’s idealism, causes Munro to question his farfetched ideas. With lines like, “God made [the urge to fight] instinct, war makes it art,” his words embody the respect a fearless leader can command.“Impossible is just a medium through which an idea travels on its way to the possible,” says Munro, and the theme of the show is as idealistic as the convictions of its main character. “Futurity” is grounded in a sentiment of hope, and this factor makes it so engaging. Philosophical implications and academic references abound, from Socrates to Lord Byron, although knowing the meaning of these references is ultimately unimportant to an understanding of the show. The point—embodied in the machine that aims to solve the world’s problems through an industrial process—was that intellect, and physical and intellectual labor, must work together to bring about Munro’s much sought-after untopia. This sense of synthesis between mental and physical action communicates the idea that our imaginations, whether regarding war, peace, science or love, can, as the General says, “excitedly lead us over a cliff.”
Overall, “Futurity” is a poignant tale of what it means to believe in something, logical or not. It is not just a musical for philosophers in love; its combination of fantastic music and innovative set design make it a brilliantly executed piece that stands as one of the A.R.T.’s strongest recent showings.