William S.E. Coleman’s absurdist look at a series of imagined dystopian futures tries to have it both ways, Huxley’s regimented Brave New World crossed with a zaniness that calls to mind Woody Allen’s Bananas. While it doesn’t manage to pull off this trick, it does have a fair amount of fun along the way.
The first of the play’s four segments is the best, made so above all by a scintillatingly funny, pitch-perfect portrayal by Julia Kelly of Judy Carpenter, a young woman whose conversation with an attractive man she meets in a restaurant (played equally effectively by Eric Whitten) is linguistically and emotionally hampered by a law that men may address women only with questions. Enforced by some curiously old-fashioned policing, this idea says something about the excesses of “politically correct” speech as it applies to male-female relations, and its silliness clicks with the hilarity of the scene.
The premise of Act II holds that an all-powerful religio-fascist state has taken control of marital matches and quashed women into primitive roles as childbearing machines. A few years have passed, Act I’s syntactic law is no longer in effect, but now Julia and her new fiancé Paul must bring professional advocates and face a judge when they want to marry. A disturbing dystopia indeed, but awkwardness in the dramatic construction gives this segment a faintly amateurish quality that seldom lifts thereafter. At least some of that may result from the hurried quality that necessarily tinges many Fringe productions, but the play itself would benefit from more tonal consistency and, in this segment especially, more naturalistic dialogue.
The third segment hits with more force. Still farther into the future, the thwarted fiancée (Justin Colón) of Act II, now happily married, reports with all his (extensive) personal documentation to a government office in compliance with a new policy that everyone must be officially identified. Dave Coleman has a good deal of Jim Carrey-style fun as the ramrod-crazy official through whom Paul learns that those who can’t present adequate evidence of who they are to a capricious, almost Kafka-esque bureaucracy officially cease to exist.
As a result, countless ignored “phantoms” now roam the streets – only to be decimated, along with the official citizens, by the ferocious viral plague of Act IV. Here humor gives way to pathos. We’ve come full circle, too: As in Act I, two strangers meet and find themselves mutually attracted, though now under much harsher circumstances. Kristin Shields and Eric Whitten do good work here as lonely surgical-gloved survivors tiptoeing towards an ever-rarer human connection.
A Future Imperfect has several more performances through Aug. 21 as part of Fringe NYC.