City Paper is not for tourists
Playing at: Atlas Performing Arts Center: Sprenger
Remaining Performances: July 19 at 8:45 p.m., July 23 at 10 p.m. Tickets availablehere.
They say: Hitchcock meets Blade Runner in this multimedia rock opera re-boot of suspense classic, Rope. Science-lab rivalry turns deadly in the race to build the perfect robot. Hidden passions explode as artificial intelligence blurs the border between machine demolition and murder.
Alan says: Ambition can be a tricky thing at Fringe. On one hand, unfettered freedom gives writers, directors, and actors an opportunity to push their creativity to its limit. The downside, however, is that sometimes that freedom can exceed a performer’s grasp. In the rock opera Dial R for Robot, technical issues mean that ambition gives way to folly.
Director Chris Griffin and his cast make no attempt to hide their influences. Before the show starts, there is a multimedia collage of robots in popular culture, from Metropolis onward. The main characters are Tyrell Byerly (David Weiner) and Decker Shaw (Lansing O’Leary). Their names are an amalgam of characters from Blade Runner, and they sing about preparations for a cocktail party.
I wish I could be more specific than that, but their microphones were dialed so low that I could not understand what they were saying. There is no spoken dialogue in Dial R for Robot, only singing, so when a play’s most important characters are too muddled to be understood, the show suffers from an irreparable problem. O’Leary’s voice in particular sounds like a dull roar: his deep voice needs volume for clarity.
While the plot of Dial R for Robot is impossible to follow, there are aspects of the show that are fun, even clever. Before the party starts, the screen behind the stage instructs the audience to use a Twitter poll to determine what roles the attendees should play. The show comes with its own Android app, one that bandleader Katy Gaughan instructs us to use during a musical interlude. The four-piece band has unconventional instrumentation, and the music has enough hooks to leave me curious what they would do next.
But for all the fun costumes and gleeful science fiction references, Dial R for Robot falters in the beginning and never quite recovers. Some supporting actors like Caz Gardiner were clear as a bell, while others like Scott Griswold suffered from the same fate as the two leads. The plot is comically dense—I think there is in interlude in postwar Berlin—so when the action veers toward tragedy, there is no emotional context for what happens.
The classic mystery plays Dial M for Murder and Rope require precision. They generate suspense because we understand what information is being withheld, who is withholding it, and where the secrets are hidden. Dial R for Robot does not have the same detail, to the point where the production cannot honor its source material.
See it if: You’re a diehard fan of Hitchcock or science fiction.
Skip it if: Careful plotting and legible lyrics are important to you.