To genre purists, the idea of androids navigating the footlights of a stageplay may lack the obvious Reese’s factor (“two great tastes together at last”). There’s precedent, however; 2020 marks the 100-year anniversary of the coinage of the word “robot,” courtesy of Czech playwright Karel Capek and his play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, published in 1920. Here, playwright David Templeton takes the baton and points it deep into outer space to explore the most interior of matters.
Many know of Templeton’s contributions to these very pages the past quarter-century or of his various turns as a playwright in the last decade or so (Drumming with Anubis, Wretch Like Me), but now Templeton is boldly going where no Sonoma County theater has gone before in his play, Galatea.
It’s 2167 and robot-specialist Dr. Margaret Mailer (Madeleine Ashe) conducts a series of clinical sessions with an android named 71 (Abbey Lee), the sole-surviving member of a “synthetic support crew” assigned to the colony-vessel Galatea. But that’s not the weird part—the Galatea disappeared over 100 years ago along with its 2,000 human passengers. As 71’s shrink-sessions progress, Dr. Mailer realizes she’s hiding something—something potentially horrifying.
Much of Templeton’s onstage writing has been autobiographical—heavy stuff like overcoming a teenage bout of Christian fundamentalism. And yet, the genre’s trappings and tropes (robots; long, cryogenic naps) opened ways for Templeton to explore his own existential quandaries—as it has with many sci-fi writers.
“In some ways, it’s one of the most personal plays I’ve ever written,” says Templeton, who is most-likely human (though his dead-on impression of Donald Sutherland as a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers does raise questions).
Another human aboard this theatrical vessel is director Marty Pistone, whose own science fiction bona fides include appearing onscreen as Controller #2 in Star Trek 4: The Journey Home and performing stunts in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.
“The questions and conundrums that ‘Galatea’ explores—questions about the meaning of humanity and its value on Earth—are questions I’ve been thinking about for much of my life,” Templeton says.
Indeed, questions loom—namely, how did 71 wind up alone in deep space, and what exactly happened aboard the Galatea? But perhaps the deeper mystery Templeton and his characters hope to solve—and one to which this particular mix of artists, genre and medium are uniquely suited—is: what does it mean to be human?
Galatea plays March 20 to April 5 at Bette Condiotti Experimental Theatre, Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Tickets and times at Spreckelsonline.com