While the human race stands on the verge of controlling its own genome, and cyberneticists have nearly figured out how to program a computer to beat the world champion at chess, British playwright Alan Ayckbourn jumps ahead a few years to a time when actoids are competing with actors for prime time roles. In Comic Potential, his 53rd play, Ayckbourn explores the possibility of training life-like robots to learn the nuts and bolts of acting. If this sounds like the pipe dream of a director fed up with the ego of his actors, it is, for Ayckbourn has certainly directed his share of prima donnas. But despite having written the material, things don't turn out quite the way he hoped.
During a weekly sitcom taping, Jacie Triplethree (JCF 31333), an android actress (Jessica Austgen), reveals what appears to be a budding sense of humor to a young writer, Adam Trainsmith (Jordan Young). Despite warnings from his boss, the network regional director (Kristin Walker) who has her own designs on him, Adam falls for Jacie and promises to make her a star.
Though the premise offers Ayckbourn an opportunity to poke fun at the greed and shallowness of the television industry and, at the same time, discourse on the subtleties of the comedic arts, Comic Potential remains just what the title suggests, and nothing more: Between a book that grants no more sense to any human being than that accorded a robot, and direction that plays to stereotypes, none of the characters garner enough empathy to create the slightest stirrings of a catharsis.
This is a shame, given the talent on the stage. Jessica Austgen, as Jacie Triplethree, makes us want to believe that, like Pinocchio, an actoid could become an actress. But alas, the playwright and the director have conspired to deprive us of any real people by which to measure her progress.
The Aurora Fox Arts Center's production of Comic Potential runs through March 30. 303-361-2910.