Remember the old phrase, “Is it live or is it memorex”? Now onstage at the Echo in Atwater Village, playwright D.G. Watson has crafted an interactive performance piece that puts differences in delivery systems into sharp relief.
Ascension begins with a prisoner confined to an ethereal “pod.” Rebel (Charrell Mack) doesn’t know the reason for her incarceration, but her tormentor, (Leandro Cano), doesn’t seem to care. She is part of a study in A.I., conducted by Dr. Monica Traver (Karen Sours Albisua) and her new supervisor (Steve Hofvendahl) at a fictional think-tank, Enventure, Inc.
Dr. Travers has created Innana (voiced by Elise DuRant), a virtual assistant who just may have an unprogrammed mind of her own. We are promised that, with the perfection of the company’s suspended animation technique, the project will cure all ills and create everlasting life. To prove her thesis, Dr. Travers enlists her own daughter, Lindy (Gloria Ines). Perhaps more patients may be found in this evening’s group of observers who are witnessing the experiments.
Directed by Ahmed Best in a plethora of detail, Ascension questions reality, life, and death, and shows how easily a cult can grow, as the audience members (observers) are invited into the experiment. We are told variously that The Second Sun will save you, or its rays will kill you, and we are never assured which.
The action interweaves through onstage depictions of time and space, leaving us to try to pull together the shards of meaning, as we learn more about the experiment, the intentions of the perpetrators and finally, the identity, or lack of it, of the central characters.
Echo Theatre Company’s ensemble of excellent performers bring authenticity to their interactions, performing against a backdrop created by “pod” designer Bill Voorhees and augmented reality designer Jesse Gilbert. With sound provided by Black Music Theatre the Avatar, lighting and costuming from Elio Oliver, Echo brings us as close to a virtual experience as a live performance can achieve. Buckminster Fuller would be amused. Because, ultimately, the play might have fared better as online interactive piece than an onstage event that inescapably tethers fantasy to reality.
Ascension continues through November 18th, playing Tuesdays through Thursdays at 8 pm at the Echo Theatre in Atwater Village Theatre Complex,3269 Casitas Ave., Los Angeles 90039. Proof of vaccination is required. All tickets are $34.00. Call (310) 307-3753 or go to www.echotheatrecompany.com.