This review of Sanguine Theatre Company's production of Patrick Vermillion's Jessica at IRT Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by Patrick Vermillion
Directed by Emily Jackson
Scenic & Lighting Designer: Tyler M. Perry
Costume Designer: Amanda Aiken
Sound Designer: John McKenna
154 Christopher Street
New York, New York 10014
Jessica has disappeared and over the past four years, her devoted, controlling, rich boyfriend Allister has been searching for her. Did the pressures of life cause Jessica to run away to Paris or did she take her own life? Without a body, no one in Jessica's life has been able to find closure. Finally, Allister comes up with an unconventional, controversial plan to have an Android Jessica programmed with sufficient personal information so that when Android Jessica's "neural net" is activated, she will think so much like the real flesh-and-blood Jessica that she will be able to provide her family and friends with information about where she went and what happened to her. Their goal is to re-create Jessica's "exact mental state from the night she disappeared." Allister commissions LYFE Industries, a company that up to this point in time has made "companions" (i.e. sex robots) to handle the project and pays them three million dollars. This ambitious endeavor will be supervised by Rudi, the software engineer, and Jessica's best friend Mari and sister Lillian will be brought in to assist.
Rudi has researched Jessica for four years and has programmed Android Jessica with all the information he could find about her and her friends. Allister contributed Jessica's personal diary, which her best friend Mari finds objectionable. Mari also has other concerns. She questions whether Jessica would want to be found or even if she would wish to come back. Mari questions Allister's motives and wonders whether he is creating a "Jessica Companion" for himself. After Allister agrees he will deactivate Android Jessica if they are unable to locate the real one, Mari agrees to contribute memories she shared with Jessica in their youth. However, she is concerned Jessica might not remember those incidents in quite the same way she does. Her sister Lillian is absolutely appalled at the whole project and confesses that "some of us are less enthusiastic about having her back." Apparently, Lillian was the last person to see Jessica, and during a fight over a $5,000.00 loan Jessica never paid back, Lillian threw a plate at her head and said, "the whole family would be better off without you." Allister has also made the controversial decision not to tell Rudi about Jessica's mental illness and depression, which compromises the chances of the project's success. Intrigue follows and a self-aware Jessica is somehow activated.
The project is a success. Android Jessica has all the thoughts of Real Jessica, except she recognizes she is in a robot's body and that "the real me is in my actual body." Her friends question whether it's the real Jessica speaking or someone pretending to be Jessica. Perhaps there is no relevant difference. They ask Jessica what happened to her and where she is. Her response is, " I know where I am but I can't tell you" or more precisely, "I don't want to tell you." All she says is, "I don't want to be found" and "I am not coming back." I think the playwright intended these last interactions with Jessica to bring closure to the lives of her friends and family but the ending of the play was poorly written and was not at all satisfying. Android Jessica told Mari to find a new best friend and that the rest of her life was up to her. She also told Allister that while he was "nice," she didn't think she loved him. Lillian's reaction was that since she now knows Jessica is dead and not coming back, she can start to sell her things and get back the $5,000.00 she was never repaid. One possible alternative ending might be having Android Jessica thrilled to be alive again fully regretting her impetuous decision to commit suicide and grateful for the opportunity she now has to continue to live and experience life. The play could end with her friends and family shutting her down against her will, or else leaving her with Rudi and LYFE Industries to make her own way in an uncertain future.
This play raises many interesting questions about artificial intelligence. It will keep you interested and engaged as it unfolds. The set was impressive and the acting top-notch. Alli Trussell was particularly amazing as Jessica and Alison Scaramella is an accomplished actor who drew the attention of the audience whenever she appeared as Lillian, Jessica's sister. Anna Nemetz successfully portrayed Jessica's frumpy but devoted best friend Mari, who moved to Chicago and returned to assist Allister in his efforts to locate Jessica. Will Sarratt was appropriately cast as Rudi, the software engineer, who became more devoted to the project than he was to his client. His view of Jessica was that "she was a nice but flawed person, just like everyone else." Lillian questioned whether Android Jessica was a person or a product. Finally, Michael Patrick Trimm, who played Allister, was successful in representing the many aspects of his character's personality. The ensemble cast interacted well with each other and deserves credit for the success of this play.
Oh, by the way, I forgot to ask, "Do you have any waffles?" No? That's alright. I'll just buy them during intermission at the next performance of Jessica at IRT Theater. The show runs through August 5, 2017. Tickets ($18.00) are available online at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2954473 or by calling 1-800-838-3006. If available, tickets at the door can be purchased for $25.00. Use discount code "SHESBACK" online at tinyurl.com/jessicatix for $15.00 tickets.