The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence

Love, intimacy, and IBM's Watson computer.

Shotgun Players
Ashby Stage, Berkeley, California
Written by Madeleine George
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Starring Sarah Mitchell, Brady Morales Woolery, Mick Mize
Through September 10, 2017
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There’s a lot going on in the two-act, three-person production of “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” — multiple characters, multiple themes, multiple time periods — so it pays to concentrate in order to absorb all the stimulating ideas that playwright Madeleine George (Precious Little) has to present. And that’s what is so good and perhaps not so good about the play. There are complex concepts, moods and eras presented, perhaps a bit too many to gel into a perfectly cohesive drama.

Inspired by IBM’s Watson computer’s famous 2011 win on Jeopardy (despite a few really nonsensical responses), Pulitzer Prize finalist George brings together several characters named Watson, based on both real and imagined Watsons, as she explores different aspects of love and how love and intimacy can be adversely affected by technology. Or is the technology merely an excuse to avoid intimacy?

We first meet Eliza (Sarah Mitchell), a scientist working on a prototype robot/humanoid, Watson (Brady Morales Woolery plays all characters named Watson), whom she is grooming into the perfect artificially intelligent supportive, attentive, giving companion and lover.

When her political office-seeking conservative and jealous ex-husband, Merrick (Mick Mize), hires a computer repair guy, named Josh Watson, to spy on Eliza, Josh and Eliza start a hot sexual relationship, in which Josh Watson is as loving and giving as is the robot/humanoid Watson. Eliza struggles with accepting unconditional love with its attendant risks from Josh Watson, although she adores it from the robot Watson, whom she can control.

Interspersed with Eliza’s story are two others that delve back into 19th century fiction and history. We are introduced to Conan Doyle’s fictional Dr. John Watson, who in Sherlock’s absence, gallantly tries to help Mrs. Merrick (Sarah Mitchell) with her husband (Mick Mize) and his Dr. Frankenstein-like ideas about reinventing what he treasures in his wife. Thomas A. Watson, who assisted Alexander Graham Bell when he invented the telephone, is shown to represent yet another distinct form of love and support.

Nancy Carlin’s able direction smoothly keeps all the balls in the air, and the three actors are first-class. Sarah Mitchell as Eliza is particularly effective at the close of the performance, while Brady Morales Woolery succeeds well in distinguishing all the Watsons, and Mick Mize effectively acts the roles of the two fanatical, self-important husbands.

“The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” examines devotional, controlling, unconditional, and lustful love. That’s a lot to cover, and it’s done very well . . . but it’s a lot to cover. The fact the play is just a bit too crammed full of plot and a tad talky shouldn’t detract one from appreciating it overall. The drama presents thought-provoking ideas, while it manages to emphasize the human spark in the human characters, and perhaps in the humanoid one as well.

This review originally appeared on Berkeleyside.com

By Emily S. Mendel

emilymendel@gmail.com © Emily S. Mendel 2017 All Rights Reserved

San Francisco,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to culturevulture.net since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for berkeleyside.com.