Past Battles With Future in Goodman Theatre’s “stop. reset.”

The future, or at least the kind of future we have imagined with artificial intelligence, holograms, time and space travel, and microchips inserted into our brains, seems very far away. And no matter how we envision that future in movies like “I, Robot,” “Gattaca,” and “Transcendence,” there are deep-rooted problems with morality, humanity and the world in general.

Goodman Theatre’s “stop. reset.”, written and directed by Regina Taylor, is a somewhat futuristic play that blends the past, present and future together in a thought-provoking and riveting production. Set in present-day Chicago in an African American book publishing company that is on the brink of shutting down, the play centers on Ames, the old-fashioned owner and founder of the company, his employees who slowly break down as they fight to keep their jobs and the company in business, and J., an unknown, weird teenager who seems to know more about technology and the future than anybody else.

The play has an inventive and detailed setting, designed by Riccardo Hernandez, which really helps to bring the story to life and make the futuristic aspects seem more real to the audience. Placed in the center of the theatre, the stage is set very low and easily visible to everyone. I sat in the first row and was so close to the action that it felt like I was in the play.

The most inventive aspect of the setting was the rows of TV screens just above the stage that reflected and amplified some of the action, particularly moments where the future comes into play with things like holograms and time travel. These TV screens also worked well with the play’s lighting (lead by Keith Parham) and sound (Richard Woodbury), which were an essential part of the story’s plot. The sound throughout the play was often abrupt, loud and startling when it came to the future, like when J. “stops” the action in the present and then “resets” it, which really catches the audience’s attention and keeps them engaged.

The cast in this production is also very talented, especially Edgar Miguel Sanchez (J.) and Eugene Lee (Ames). Sanchez is incredibly active on stage and is captivating to watch as he jumps, falls, dances and runs around. He also does a good job of portraying J. as someone who comes from the future, with little attention span and tons of energy. Lee has a powerful and strong voice that really makes you pay attention to every line that he speaks. It helps that his lines are incredibly thoughtful and meaningful, including one particularly poetic line: “Like legs, books allow for travel.”

My only criticism of the production is that, at the end, it gets out of control and confusing. I couldn’t really understand what happens between Ames and J. with Ames’ memories, and the other publishing house workers go crazy breaking things and yelling. The message behind the play, which I believe is for us to think about what kind of future we’re going to have and what important values and qualities we’ll have left behind, is wonderful, but the insanity that follows at the end of the play is over the top.

I found “stop. reset.” to be a very interesting play that gives you a glimpse into a future where books are compost and people can change forms and identities as easy as they can change clothes, a present with a society that is already in the midst of great changes, and a past that is filled with integrity.

 

stop. resent” continues through June 21 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. For tickets and more information, visit Goodman’s website.


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