Go Robot Go
nytheatre.com review by Eric Winick
August 15, 2004
In Fringeland, where the glass is always half-full, even the wildly uneven shows can be worth one’s time and effort. Such is the case with Go Robot Go, a cautionary tale about the dehumanization of contemporary society; though the satire is a bit too wide-ranging to be incisive, there’s plenty to distract from the thinness of the plot, and the fact that, despite its subject and novel approach, the piece isn’t saying anything particularly new.
Robot concerns Roberta (playwright Julie Shavers), a mousy, awkward assistant to a hilariously self-obsessed celebrity designer (Shari Hellman). Forced to answer phones and endure the endless rants of a cynical colleague (Eileen Rivera), Roberta finds little solace beyond the workplace; her boyfriend is a none-too-bright stripper with an Elvis fixation (William Cantera), and her dysfunctional family (Chris Hury and Amy Mapother) is straight out of a John Waters film. Enter American Man and Woman (Max Darwin and Laurel Keane), a pair of beautiful hucksters who, through a series of television commercials, exhort Roberta to change her life by swallowing a purple pill that promises knowledge of “fucking everything.”
Shavers and director Daniel O’Brien have wisely added a live band to the proceedings, and the playful, bouncy score (by Philip Carluzzo) keeps things gliding along, even when the play begins to outstay its welcome. Characters rush on and off in frenzied bursts, serve as walls and furniture, and occasionally appear on a live video feed—an enormously effective device that adds needed intimacy within the cavernous playing space. For the most part, these accoutrements complement Shavers’s dialogue nicely. The decision to have actors perform robotic movements behind certain scenes is less successful, as it tends to pull focus, and does little to enhance our understanding of the play.
At times, however, there is remarkable synergy between writer and director—the scene in which Roberta opens an Amex account and joins the fabulous set, prompting an orgiastic dance number set to “Material Girl,” is a show-stopper. The cast (which also includes the superb Daniel Kleinfeld) commits fully to every moment, with Shavers most adept at the physical style her text demands. Whether slinking about the stage in a funk or kicking up her heels before a live mike, she’s great fun to watch; even if her script doesn’t always hit its marks, there’s enough here to herald the arrival of a major talent.