Something wonderful is happening at the Secret Theater. Science fiction has taken over this Long Island City that’s begun to play host to a series of intellectually stimulating pulp theater, starting with Mac Rogers’ ongoing Honeycomb Trilogy with Gideon Productions there. Now, the provocative cyber-thriller Deinde joins the ranks as well. Who’d have thought such a small Off-Off-Broadway venue could provide such fertile soil for the sandbox of one’s mind?
Deinde, helmed by the winning team of playwright August Schulenberg and director Heather Cohn, is set in 2051. (Note: the two are part of the Flux Theatre Ensemble, which has mounted Deinde and provides the “F” in BFG, a collective sharing a half-year residency at the Secret; Gideon makes up the “G”). A team of dedicated quantum biologists faces a deadly virus, including Cooper Sands (David Ian Lee), whose wife is slowly dying from it. The team learns from intelligence expert Daniel Nemerov (Matthew Trumbull) about a system called Deinde (a humorous acronym for “Dineural Entangled Intelligence Network Device”), which will enhance their analytic capabilities and discover a vaccine for this scourge.
Apparently, though, in the future, what happens in practice is very different from what happens in theory. Elder team member Malcolm (Ken Glickfield) fears these “super-brains” will either alter or corrupt his scientists, and he’s within reason. It isn’t long before various side effects begin to tear his team apart at the seams, largely unfolding in a series of two-handers between members of the cast. Mac Silverhorn (an intensely committed Isaiah Tanenbaum) actively loses touch with his humanity, to the fright of best friend Bobby (Matthew Murumba) and intrigue of co-worker Jenni Long (Rachael Hip-Flores), who herself becomes detached from girlfriend Mindy (Sol Marina Crespo). Cooper, meanwhile, embarks on a new journey of his own, questioning loyalty to his wife over a connection to lead scientist Nita Ghosh (Nitya Vidyasagar).
A lot of these individual threads progress in ways you might expect, but woven together like a double helix, the carefully constructed Deinde becomes both suspenseful theater and intriguing bioethical commentary. What’s wonderful is just how much of this play’s progression happens in the minds of its characters, and, without showy visual effects, is communicated to the audience. Cohn is able to do this by eliciting touching, specific performances from her entire ensemble, from Lee’s palpably anguished Cooper to Trumbull’s awkward Nemerov to Tanenbaum’s funny-frightening Mac. Additionally, Will Lowry’s minimalist set design, quickly dispatched between scenes is wonderfully evocative.
Deinde takes a few turns for the self-indulgent. It’s currently far from a taut play, and could actually stand to lose about twenty minutes of its running time by trimming some redundant blubber. I also wish the relationship between Cooper and Nita had more of an ebb and flow to it, and that more attention was paid to the (de)evolution of Dara (Alyssa Simon), Cooper’s dying wife, currently an undernourished thread. But there is exceedingly more that works for Deinde than there is against it. Schulenberg has created a socially relevant cautionary tale about the uses and abuses of technology. And in saddling his message to a host of intriguing characters and a smart story, he comes to praise its possibilities, not bury them. Imagine that.
The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd Street, Long Island City), thru May 12.
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