What an interesting play! That’s what my guest and I agreed upon after we saw the world premiere of Jacob Berkowitz’s new play, The Anniversary, at the University of Ottawa’s LabO theatre. The play tackles several significant topics including how family dynamics are evolving in the face of burgeoning technologies, and the complicated relationships between humans and their Artificial Intelligence (AI) creations.
Evelyn (Kristina Watt), a high-powered Ottawa lawyer, is celebrating her 30-year partnering with a “perfect” android named Adam (Hugh Neilson). To celebrate, she’s invited their three grown daughters—Marley, Sarah and Cordelia (played by Ludmylla Reis, Puja Uppal, and Eve Beauchamp respectively)—to visit them for a celebration. Adam is less sure this is a good idea because there’s a lot of friction in the family, as we soon see.
One of Evelyn’s life goals has always been to form a perfect family—a perfect husband and three perfect kids, with Evelyn at the centre. She chose Adam for his many admirable qualities and has assiduously paid for his many expensive updates over the years. She says that “with each update, you’ve improved”. She’s very happy with Adam. She even claims they have great sex together. He is programmed to be honest and to “make it all work”. For Eve… sorry, I mean Evelyn…”making it all work” means not changing anything in the family she’s created. She wants her family to be as they were when the kids were small and she could easily fashion their lives, with Adam making everything work smoothly for her.
So if Adam is an android, where did the kids come from? Evelyn carefully vetted sperm donors and was artificially inseminated three times. The results: three children, with Adam there to do much of the child-raising while Evelyn worked seven days a week. Evelyn says he was an excellent father. Was there love shared between them? That’s an interesting question.
Someone asks Adam if he’s happy—whether he likes something. He answers, “Like? That’s not how I’m wired.”
When the three daughters arrive, the verbal jousting begins immediately, mostly between Evelyn and each daughter, with a few nasty barbs also aimed by each young woman at her sisters. And Adam, all the while, trying vainly to “make it all work”.
I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the successful use of “theatre in the round”—a difficult theatrical feat to pull off. Director Kevin Orr made effective use of the stage, moving the five characters around it in a believable manner without it being distracting. However, occasionally words were inaudible when an actor’s back was to us. There was also a technical glitch during one of the scenes involving one daughter interviewing one of her sisters using a video camera. I’m not sure if this was intentional (there are a lot of things going wrong in this family!) or just bad luck.
My guest and I found lots to talk about after seeing this play.
The Anniversary is playing at the University of Ottawa’s LabO theatre in the Ottawa Art Gallery until May 28. The performance starts at 7:00 pm. The play is 77 minutes long, with no intermission. Information and tickets are available online.