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Theater Fri Jun 05 2015

Goodman's stop. reset.: A Sci-Fi Story of Books, Race and Technology

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Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Edgar Sanchez (J). Photo by Liz Lauren.

It's fitting that the Goodman Theatre's production of stop. reset., written and directed by Regina Taylor, coincides with the playwright's 20th season as an Artistic Associate with the theater. Taylor, who has presented a significant breadth of work over that span, here gives us a story that probes the meaning of legacy and integrity, and how to hold onto our memories and accomplishments while remaining receptive to the future and everything that it holds.

stop. reset. concerns a near-future doomsday moment for an African American book publishing company run by the aging Alexander Ames (Eugene Lee). Printed books are finished, his employees, and seemingly the whole world tell him; the focus needs to shift to what's next. The keys to understanding what that may entail lie with an enigmatic teenage janitor, J (Edgar Miguel Sanchez), a cyberpunk-y rebel who spends most of his energy tuning in to an elaborate Ghost in the Shell-style virtual network. Moving through this perhaps-not-far-off descendant of today's Internet is like moving through water. Identity, history, and status are all fluid.

Like a lot of effective science fiction, Taylor's play becomes a conversation about ideas portrayed as distant but really grounded in issues today. One might expect a work produced by such an established presence to give deference to the old guard, but stop. reset. plays both sides of the technology debate as though they are equally valid. Ames insists that you can't separate a person from their past, and that lineage and tradition are especially important to the African American community, as they mark the battles and hardships fought through generations and into today. J's perspective is a perpetual implicit "why not?" Why not just escape the awfulness of the past by diving into a new, digital world? What do we lose by stopping and resetting our world?

Lee's performance as the crotchety but tenacious publishing head is especially engrossing. We follow his arc from a stoic man, able to deliver unfazed the grim tales of his enslaved ancestors, to a person pushed to his emotional limits reliving the death of his son. A character whose worldview is couched in the absolute importance of treasuring the artifacts and memories of the past must confront the fact that those "treasures" are all but torturing him, weighing heavily upon his heart and mind. Lee moves easily between heady discussions of political philosophy and pseudo-impromptu movement and rhythm sequences, never over-acting and grounding complex concepts into basic human terms.

On that note, there's an extent to which some of the play's complexities trip it up. Our forays into J's digital-world experience are presented through arresting audiovisual multimedia spectacles, but we're generally left with pretty nebulous descriptions as to what exactly it is and what its rules are. There's a key plot-point involving a physical(?) law that governs person-to-person contact in this space that is explained somewhat vaguely considering how impactful it turns out to be.

Ultimately, stop. reset. is able to pack a lot of ambition and vital dialogue into one piece. Taylor is apt to describe her latest work as Afrofuturist, explaining that "the focus is on grappling with where we as African Americans have been, where we are now, and dreaming about who we will become." By exploring hypothetical future extensions of today's politics, the play provokes the thought that our issues today are not the endpoint, but rather the midpoint. A predecessor to the next hundred years. Or as Afrofuturist pioneer Sun Ra puts it, "the light of the future casts the shadows of tomorrow."

stop. reset. runs 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission. The play continues at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., through June 21. Performances are Tuesday through Sunday at varying times. Tickets for $10-40 can be bought online or by calling 312-443-3800.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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