The robots arise at the Majestic in “R.U.R.”

by | Oct 22, 2021 | Arts and Entertainment | 0 comments

Before the androids of “Westworld,” the replicants of “Blade Runner” and even before the Maschinemensch “Maria” in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” there were Rossum’s Universal Robots.

In fact, Karel Čapek’s 1920 play “R.U.R” (the subtitle is “Rossum’s Universal Robots”), introduced the word “robot” to the English language – and has cast a long shadow over science fiction for a century.

Now, Brandi Douglas wants to introduce Čapek’s play to a new audience: She’s the director of a new Majesticpiece Theatre production of “R.U.R.” The production livestreams at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on Facebook Live; a recording of the live performance will be available afterward on the Majestic Theatre’s Facebook page.

“I just found it very interesting that a play like this existed in this time period” of the 1920s, Douglas said in a recent interview. “It really just connects to what we still see in the genre today.”

A screenshot from a rehearsal of “R.U.R” shows some of the actors in the influential 1920 science-fiction play. Majesticpiece Theatre is performing the show in a livestream on Saturday.

The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots. (Later works of science fiction generally would call this sort of creation “androids.”) These robots can be mistaken for humans and can think for themselves. By the time the play begins, robots are available around the world and have become essential for industry.

And if you’ve spent virtually any time around sci-fi over the last 100 years, you’ve guessed what happens next: The robots begin to rebel.

Douglas, a fan of science-fiction programs and movies like “Doctor Who” and “Blade Runner,” doesn’t completely blame the robots: “You see throughout the story we think it’s the robots who are bringing on the downfall” of humanity, she said, “but truly it’s the humans.”

The play also explores themes that are still timely today – maybe more so than when Čapek wrote.  What is the nature of humanity? Should we be cautious about embracing new technology? (It may be that Čapek wrote the play partially as a response to the advent of the assembly line in Henry Ford’s factories.)

Again, Douglas lays the blame on humanity: “Usually, it’s not the technology that is inherently evil, it’s how we use it.”

In fact, Douglas has been using technology to prepare this production: After 10 years in Corvallis, she moved this fall to South Carolina’s Clemson University, where she’s pursuing a Ph.D in educational leadership. But she uses Zoom to connect with her cast and crew, and it’s been going fine  – even if the time difference means that a 6:30 p.m. rehearsal with her cast and crew in Corvallis is a 9:30 p.m. start for her. “It works out,” she said, “as long as I can get to bed at a reasonable hour, which is usually right after rehearsal.”

Douglas said she’s striving for what she calls a “retro-futurism” feel to the production, which she calls a “visual radio play.” She said the production relies much more on sound effects and music than on visual effects.

”It’s ominous,” she said of the play, “but not in a way that’s dark, if that makes sense. … It’s not without a little hope.”

If You Watch

WHAT: “R.U.R.” (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek, a production of the Majesticpiece Theatre, sponsored by the Majestic Theatre.

WHEN: A livestream on Facebook Live is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 23; a recording of the performance will be available for streaming afterward.

CAST AND CREW: Brandi Douglas is the director. The cast includes Nikolai Kassatkin, Teiya Inokua,  Ralph Turley, Hannah Carter, Brandon Urey, Nancy Homan, Ryan McWayne, Rose Taylor, Andrew Freborg, Arlee Olson and Ruby Reid.

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $11. Click here for more details about buying tickets.

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