By Daniel Skora
The flash of lightning and the deep rumble of thunder that open “Smart Love”, the current presentation of The Purple Rose Theatre, at first hardly seem necessary. It never bothers to rain, and the sense of foreboding that usually comes with stormy weather doesn’t quite fit a play that begins with a woman secure in the love of a man who adores her…will, in fact, soon be the recipient of the attentions of yet another man who loves and adores her just the same. It’s only when the nature of that second man becomes known that a connection can be drawn between “Smart Loves’s” lightning and the lightning that gave life to Dr. Frankenstein’s creation the in that memorable 1939 film “Frankenstein”.
“Smart Love” is a comedy/drama about love in the age of high tech and advanced science. Sandy Wachowski (Sarab Kamoo) has found love again after the recent passing of her husband. The amorous night she has just spent with Victor, her lover (Jim Porterfield), is indicative of their happiness and commitment to each other. But the coffee they share along with the leisurely comedown from their sexual bliss is interrupted by someone pounding at the door. It’s Sandy’s son Benjamin (David Bendena), returning home after being gone for many months. Benji knows nothing about the new man in his mother’s life, who escapes through a back window before Sandy opens the door. Benji is an MIT doctoral student who’s been doing research in the field of artificial intelligence. He had a very close relationship with his father with whom he shared many interests. But Benji’s behaving rather weirdly and his unkempt appearance and agitated emotional state indicate that whatever he’s been doing the months he’s been away has greatly affected his stability.
The other man who wants to be a part of Sandy’s life is Ron (Wayne David Parker). Ron believes his prior relationship with Sandy will give him the inside track for her affections. But Ron is not the man he used to be and his unexpected grand entrance is met with shock and surprise.
In a world where the limits of science and technology are rapidly diminishing, the question of how humans will react to those new frontiers is not always asked. All of the current research into self-driven automobiles seems to indicate their inevitability, but has anyone bothered to ask those who have become used to the pleasures of being at the wheel of a fine automobile whether that’s a good idea or not? At what point will technological advances begin interfering with our humanity? And how might the world react to the possibility of what might be the ultimate creation of a 3-D printer?
“Smart Love” addresses these large issues in the intimate setting of the Wachowski home. This World Premier of playwright Brian Letscher’s script is at once topical, passionate, and unsettling. The plot holds several surprises as it moves briskly through its 90-minute running time. Purple Rose’s production is anchored by its four well-seasoned, top-notch cast members; Bendena, Kamoo, Parker, and Porterfield turn in splendid performances. Although the play is set in Hamtramck and contains several local references, place is not critical and the play could easily be reworked to reference whatever city it was being performed in.
The play bogs down a bit as it approaches its anticipated big ending. And it’s kind of hard to really wrap your arms around any of the characters. Benji is volatile; Sandy never recovers from that first moment when Ron walks back into her life. Victor’s gone for a good chunk of the play and Ron is pure anomaly the moment he walks down the ladder that leads to Benji’s attic room. Nevertheless, “Smart Love” is interesting and entertaining theatre that should give you cause to reflect on what happens when the advances of science and technology are at odds with who and what we are as persons.
The show is directed by Guy Sanville. Set design is by Gary Ciarkowski with costumes by Shelby Newport. Lighting is by Dana L. White and sound by Tom Whalen. Performances continue through March 4th. Ticket reservations may be made by calling the Purple Rose box office at 1.734.433.7673 or going online at www.purplerosetheatre.org. The theatre is located at 137 Park Street in Chelsea. Exit at 159 if you’re going west on I-94.