Regina Taylor’s ‘stop.reset.’ imagines the soul’s journey into cyberspace

SHARE Regina Taylor’s ‘stop.reset.’ imagines the soul’s journey into cyberspace

As a character in Regina Taylor’s provocative play, “stop.reset.” observes, we’ve already cloned sheep, so isn’t some form of cloning of the human soul not far behind?

Granted, that would be one giant leap for mankind, but just consider the history of the past century alone and it might not seem all that inconceivable. And, as profoundly worrisome as the notion might seem at first consideration, you also could think of it this way: At a moment when things of substance (books, records, face-to-face human communication) seem to be disappearing into a dense cloud in cyberspace, perhaps having one’s soul (personal history, memory, emotions) stored on a chip is the only surefire way to leave anything of oneself behind.

Much food for thought.

‘stop. reset.’

Rating: Recommended

When: Through June 21

Where: Goodman Theatre, 170 N.Dearborn

Tickets: $10 – $40

Info: (312) 443-3800; http://www.GoodmanTheatre.org

Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

To be sure, Taylor, who also has directed this Goodman Theatre production with electric energy and has embedded her gargantuan metaphysical musings in a decidedly real-life story. And she has gotten inspired support from Riccardo Hernandez’s sleek set, Shawn Sagady’s projections, Keith Parham’s lighting, Karen Perry’s costumes, sound by Richard Woodbury and music by Daniel Bernard Roumain.

Her tale comes infused with a sort of mystical poetry that takes us back to ancient Africa and forward into realms of as yet unrealized technology. And Taylor is even self-mocking enough to suggest her musings might contain a certain degree of “mumbo jumbo,” a term one of her characters would surely look up in an old-fashioned dictionary, where he would find these definitions: “Unintelligible or incomprehensible language or gibberish; language or ritualistic activity intended to confuse; a complicated or obscure ritual; an object believed to have supernatural powers; a fetish.”

The flesh-and-blood of Taylor’s story is this: After four decades as the foremost publisher of African-American books, 70-year-old Alexander Ames (Eugene Lee), is facing the prospect that his Chicago-based operation might no longer be sustainable. He has been given an ultimatum from the company that seven years earlier turned his business into a subsidiary operation (a deal overseen by Ames’ son, who was recently gunned down in an act of senseless violence). And he must either downsize, and fire one or more of the four employees who have worked for him for years, or devise some radical new (and no doubt digitally based) plan for boosting sales.

Eric Lynch (from left), Jacqueline Williams, Tim Decker and Lisa Tejero in the Goodman Theatre production of “stop.reset.” (Photo: Liz Lauren)

Eric Lynch (from left), Jacqueline Williams, Tim Decker and Lisa Tejero in the Goodman Theatre production of “stop.reset.” (Photo: Liz Lauren)

His employees are not without considerable self-interest or diversity of ethnicity, age and skills. Jan (Jacqueline Williams), is the office veteran, a black woman who has been with Ames the longest. Deb (Lisa Tejero) is Asian-American, married but childless, and still ambitious. Tim (Tim Decker), the only white guy in the room, comes with a long list of ultra-liberal credentials and a pregnant black girlfriend. And Chris (Eric Lynch), the youngest of the group, is a Harvard-educated black man with a big mortgage and a drive for power of his own.

And then there is the magician in the room – J (Edgar Miguel Sanchez), the 19-year-old who works as the building’s janitor, and could easily be written off as a street kid with no future. Initially he is a serious thorn in the side of Ames, who is revolted by every technological change sweeping his world. But J not only embodies the present, writ large, but is a formidable harbinger of the future. And he becomes a sort of Ariel to Ames’ Prospero in Taylor’s subtle homage to Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.”

Sanchez gives a performance of sheer brilliance. A superb actor who moves like a dancer, and who brings such a sense of reality and cyber-reality to his role that he sometimes tricks you into thinking he is already “in the cloud,” it is difficult to take your eyes off him. And as Ames, a man obsessed with the importance of legacy and memory, Lee counters him ideally with a mix of passion, integrity and frustration.

The four “employees” are all fervent in their craven desperation to hold on to their jobs. But Taylor’s play could use some trimming, and the best place to start would be to excise some of the all-too-familiar racial and sexual banter about who is most victimized and discriminated against. What is best in “stop.reset.” – a work that finds Taylor at her bristling, ingenious and poetic best- is when she is most universal. As Vladimir Nabokov wrote: Speak, memory. And Taylor knows those memories are alive in everything from a washboard to a play station.

NOTE: In conjunction with Taylor’s play, the Goodman has launched an interactive website to serve as a virtual gathering place and digital portal for its themes. Visit. www.stopreset.org.

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