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Boise Contemporary Theater Transcends Stage With The Uncanny Valley

Sci-fi on stage

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Boise Contemporary Theater's The Uncanny Valley has the elements of a soap opera written for 14-year-old boys: ultra-realistic androids, nudity, love triangles and some dangerous ax play. It also has a few charms for adults, too, like tortured artists, cabin fever and meditations on serious issues. It is a story that whimsically wants to go in every direction at once.

The two-act play, which opened April 5, begins lucidly enough: In the distant (but still recognizable) future, Sidney Todeschi (Carie Kawa) is an art photographer with a self-destructive streak. She is on sabbatical at a longhouse near Stanley, Idaho, where she's looked after by Stanley (Stitch Marker), the house android. The two are joined by the longhouse's owners--scions of the Durney family, inventors of realistic androids--brothers Edgar Durney (Matthew Clark), for whom Sidney is a romantic interest, and Oliver Durney III (Justin Ness), whose wife Fiona Marling Durney (Tracy Sunderland) is at the source of a mysterious duel between the siblings.

The Uncanny Valley has no center and little focus, but it nevertheless entertains with its lively characters and meandering plot. It distractedly lays emphasis on whichever character is momentarily the most battered or compelling--the brothers' conflict, an aimless reflection on guilt, forgiveness and the ethics of technological progress push Sidney and Stanley to bystander status--but in this way, playwrights Matthew Cameron Clark and Dwayne Blackaller turn many of its weaknesses into strengths.

The play's most interesting characters are, unfortunately, some of its most ancillary. Stanley, a "Model A" robot, recites poetry, fondly tells stories about Edgar and Ollie's childhoods and takes particular pride in cooking. Marker's performance of a robot playing a mountain man perfectly walks the turf shared by both. Sidney, whose art photos consist of selfies in which she falls from great heights, often resulting in injury, is played with convincing unbalance by Kawa, and her romance with Edgar touchingly fills the gap in her character's soul.

The storytelling sometimes wanders into superfluity. The first scene of the second act--a flashback featuring Stanley strumming a guitar while the Durney brothers sing and dance--does nothing to resolve the cliffhanger on which the first act ended. While the first act alludes to a futuristic world, some scenes in the second act lacked that same clarity of purpose.

In the final assessment, the play is a resounding success. The Uncanny Valley draws its name from the theory of aesthetics that suggests as a representation of a human being--a realistic android, for example--approaches fidelity to the appearance of a person, so increases actual human beings' revulsion to it. Blackaller and Clark have crafted a play that passes its own smell test by transcending the stage and creating a reality for audiences that feels unmistakably genuine.