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Uncanny Valley

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This is not your Chatty Cathy doll or your Roomba vacuum cleaner. This is bigger than that, bigger even than Siri. This is a full-man robot with feelings and senses and, even, OMG, a conscience (sort of).

Meet Julian, a 21st Century creation of Claire, a neuroscientist, and her team of engineers and technologists.

Currently on stage at San Diego Rep’s Lyceum Theatre, Uncanny Valley, the modern version of Mary Shelly’s 18th Century vulnerable monster and his brilliant, but slightly mad maker, offers an unsettling preview of what is probably lurking in more than one robotics corporation’s closet. The title comes from Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori’s theory that if a robot appears human but retains some of its robotic characteristics, its weirdness causes repulsion, even fear, rather than attraction. His theory applies to pediophobia and coulrophobia, as well as a common uneasiness around socially awkward people.

As written by Thomas Gibbons and carefully, creatively directed by Jessica Bird, this heavy play’s not-so-futuristic tale of something strange this way comes poses some obvious and some unique ethical, moral, and legal questions. The play is not without humor, and, thanks to the actors’ inspired interpretations, ingenious timing, and realistically choreographed movements about the stage and in concert with each other, the plot coasts along.

Aside to playwright: Becky’s thread is more distracting than illuminating, leaving a batch of questions, the answers to which, whatever they are, have nothing to do with the real themes of creation and immortality. Claire and Julian’s relationship crisis could be just as easily handled with Howard’s illness, which BTW, advances much too quickly to make sense.

The story seems simple enough. Claire (Rosina Reynolds), a dedicated and brilliant scientist, caps her life’s work with the creation of a functioning, thinking, realistic appearing humanoid named Julian (Nick Cagle). Thanks to some wonderfully imaginative staging, we experience his emergence incrementally. As he grows from just a head, to a torso, to a full body with capable movement, he must be taught, just like a baby human, how to move, speak, and socialize. Under Claire’s devoted tutelage, Julian advances with alacrity, his zeal for learning and critical problem-solving surprising even his coach. Much to her surprise, then amazement, then shock, Julian is becoming much more than a complex computer covered in convincing polymers.

What’s more, he is curious about his own existence, asking questions universal to humankind. “Why do I look this way? Why am I here?” The eventual answers to those questions take this story to another, somewhat creepy, level before it poses even more, confounding questions. Perhaps the most disturbing concerns peoples’ desire for immortality and the not- improbable likelihood that, with enough money and influence, some folks will achieve it.

Meanwhile, we learn that Claire has too much on her plate, including a prodigal daughter and a mentally deteriorating husband, to remain a detached scientist. This woman truly needs a friend, and Julian is soon sophisticated enough to become one. Unfortunately, like some well-meaning friends, he crosses boundaries, invading both Claire’s own relationships and possibly her mental space. Although Julian explains his motivations, they do not ring true to Claire. But his rationales remind her, and us, that he is an engineered creation, not a true human

In the end, we are left with a plethora of unnerving plausibilities and perhaps a few new phobias.

Uncanny Valley continues on San Diego Repertory Theatre’s Lyceum Space through May 10. Performances: Weds & Sun at 7 pm; Thurs-Sat at 8 pm; Matinees Sat. at 2 and 4 pm, Sun at 2 pm. Tickets: $31-75, with discounts for students and military. Reservations: 619-544-1000 or







Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.