This weekend, Philly’s FringeArts presents SANS EVERYTHING, a must-see collaboration between Lightning Rod Special and Strange Attractor that pairs Artificial Intelligence with Shakespeare’s As You Like It to deliver a brilliant, breath-taking and thought-provoking performance.
The plot? In a distant future, disembodied AI decides to play human – we don’t know if humanity still exists – and inhabits the bodies of eight adults who will discover the pain and joys of corporeal existence for the very first time.
On the flawlessly designed and illuminated minimalist set (Brooklyn-based Masha Tsimring) – six doors with horizontal white blinds framed by windows through which we glimpse lights – two naked people tumble onto the stage, puking, mewling and lost – manifestations of AI hardwired into inchoate, unexperienced bodies and minds.
The woman (Alice Yorke) and the man (Jed Hancock-Brainerd) are jostled and shocked by the world at the tips of their fledgling senses. “You have a penis,” says the woman to the man with wonder. “I suppose, I do,” he replies, not fully sure what she means. “I have a vagina. Labia minora. Labia majora. Mons pubis. Whole package.” But there is no knowledge forbidden to these cloud-connected beings. The woman knows the exact chromosome location of her red hair gene. She is just not really sure how to walk.
When all the eight actors assemble on the stage, they set out on surreal, riveting journey through Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man – recall the “world’s a stage” soliloquy – guided by the distorted voice of their Alphaville-like computer overlord (Aram Aghazarian).
They taste and chew bread, adopt names and play out identities, experience the awkwardness of sensual pleasure and dreams, discover seduction, fear and cruelty, the overwhelming and lyrical raptures of human emotions, and the pleasures of performance.
After the new humans are indoctrinated into the surges of their wetware, the commandeering voice leaves them to their own devices, and the play gently morphs into a looped, absurdist take of the wrestling scene from As You Like It. The costumes are stunning – pipe fittings as hats, donut-shaped air ducting as Elizabethan ruff collars, bizarre headgear, The meta-play by post-humans lacking selfhood is rife with reflections on the nature of performance itself.
Jorge Lois Borges has a very short story in which Shakespeare meets God after death. The Bard confesses to his Maker that he never had a self and has been “many men in vain” God replies: “I, too, am not I; I dreamed the world as you, Shakespeare, dreamed your own work and among the forms of my dream are you…”
SANS EVERYTHING ups the ante on Borges’ story. Humanity creates its own godhead – AI – that longs to experience its creators through Shakespeare.
[FringeArts, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard] .February 9-11, 2017; FringeArts.com.