Philadelphia’s Bruce Graham has earned a national reputation with plays like Coyote on a Fence and White Guy on a Bus, intelligently treating thorny social problems with his trademark irony.
His latest play, Gary, which world-premieres in a run (through Oct. 13) at Eagle Theatre in Hammonton, N.J., is not one of those.
Instead, Graham cuts his sense of humor loose from conventional storytelling, reverting to his early career in stand-up comedy for a show that is as much an end-of-the-world cabaret as it is a play.
The premise for the acerbic and zany comedy is a science-fiction trope that’s starting to feel ordinary: A revolt by angry automatons against their human creators. Graham plays it as slapstick: If the human race is damned, let the fools die laughing.
The “Gary” of the play’s title (Tim Rinehart) is an advanced Siri-type digital assistant — and butler — in the home of Miles (Leonard C. Haas) and Lena (Melissa Connell). We never see him, only hear his unctuous voice. Always “delighted” to serve, Gary prepares food and drink, gives news and weather reports, even croons Barry White love songs for the “Carbos” (carbon-based organisms) he serves.
A “P.O.T.” (person of technology), himself, Gary is also something of a Luddite when it comes to mixed-race relations, disapproving of the romance between cybernetic Kevin’s (Brock Vickers) and Miles and Lena’s daughter, Amy (Katie Stahl).
Eagle Theatre is renowned for its Innovations Factory. Technical director Donald Swenson is wisely careful not to make special effects too immersive for the interiors here. Violent flashes from light designer Chris Miller and floor-shaking sound effects by David Pierron alert you to the fury of a scary futuristic world outside.
But indoors the laughs keep coming. Graham and director Ted Wioncek III crawl news-ticker updates between acts on the darkened stage. Their “news reports” had the audience in stitches with wisecracks about pop culture and politics.
There is a plot of sorts: The Carbos continually lose jobs to P.O.T.’s. Miles, a human resources supervisor, who comically discharges two goofy workers only to be sacked himself under the watchful eye of digital assistant “April."
Gary is also full of satirical touches. The humans do not realize how compromised their lives have become. When troubled, they touch their foreheads to confer with AI implants.
The actors do a fine job romping about, and Brittany Graham’s costumes render key characters especially ridiculous. In the end poor Miles is reduced to running around in boxer shorts.
Through Oct 13 at the Eagle Theatre, 208 Vine St., Hammonton, N.J.