nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 28, 2012
Deinde is a Latin word meaning "next"; August Schulenburg's brilliant new science fiction play DEINDE speculates about what might be next for our species as we evolve, with the aid of technologies we've discovered and unharnessed, into Human 2.0. In the play, DEINDE is also an acronym for "Dineural Entangled Intelligence Network Device," a wondrous high-tech prosthetic for the brain that looks like a glowing ear-bud and, when worn, expands its wearer's mental capacity exponentially.
The play takes place in 2051, where a team of quantum biologists are struggling to contain a deadly virus that is ravaging the world's population. The scientists are led by Nabanita ("Nita") Ghosh (Nitya Vidyasagar), who is brilliant, dedicated, and highly disciplined. The eldest of them is Malcolm Forner (Ken Glickfield); we're surprised to learn that he's 95 years old—medical marvels of the future have kept him vigorous despite his grey hair. The youngest are Mac Silverhorn (Isaiah Tanenbaum), who is eager, curious, and a little bit arrogant, and Jenni Long (Rachael Hip-Flores), who is similar but perhaps a bit more grounded. In between is brooding Cooper Sands (David Ian Lee), whose wife is dying of the virus.
As the play begins, Daniel Nemerov, a specialist in "enhanced intelligence," arrives at the lab with DEINDE, which he and Nita intend to deploy among the staff. The idea is that the superior capabilities these scientists will achieve when wearing DEINDE will enable them to untangle the complex RNA and DNA of the virus and develop a vaccine. Malcolm wants to know more about DEINDE's side effects; he fears that this kind of device will turn his colleagues into "cyborgs," erasing some part of what makes them human while giving them super-brains beyond our wildest imagination or understanding. This, indeed, becomes one of DEINDE's major thematic threads, as in this exchange later on between Malcolm and Nita:
MALCOLM: 300 years from now, do you really think, the way we’re going, they’re going to play the Moonlight Sonata on the Ressikan flute? They’ll play music beyond our comprehension, if they bother to play at all. And so my question is, are you prepared to condemn the haiku in the name of science?
NABANITA: If we live forever
There still won’t be time to say
All the names of beauty.
Mac and Jenni, on the other hand, are eager to try out DEINDE—and so the experiment is on. Schulenburg adheres to some of the classic tenets of dramaturgy and science-fiction story-telling here, and so when I tell you that Daniel carefully outlines the four important rules of using DEINDE there's no doubt that at least one of them will be broken before the first act curtain comes down. Nor should it surprise you to learn that Cooper is wrenched with guilt because he has fallen in love with someone while his wife Dara clings to life in a plastic bubble while she waits for the cure for her disease to be found.
The relationships are all compelling in DEINDE and the speculative science feels convincing. More important, the subjects Schulenburg explores during the course of this work are endlessly fascinating and consistently important. In a time when mobile electronic devices are seemingly more and more the vehicles for human inter-communication, the idea of a gadget that can hook a human's brain directly into a computer hardly seems far-fetched at all. DEINDE urges us not away from technology but rather to spend some time contemplating its unintended side-effects before surrendering to its magic; this is a great thing.
Director Heather Cohn has realized the play with insight and simplicity, aided immeasurably by a stellar cast and an excellent design team. In addition to the five leading players already mentioned, the ensemble includes Matthew Trumbull as Nemerov, Alyssa Simon as Dara Sands, Sol Marina Crespo as Mindy, Jenni's significant other, and Matthew Murumba as Bobby, Isaiah's band-mate. Everyone in this company turns in a remarkable performance. Will Lowry's stark, clean set is versatile and effective as it transforms from laboratory to office to various apartments; Stephanie Levin's costumes, Kia Rogers' lighting, and Martha Goode's sound all contribute mightily to defining the world of the play.
I've been working hard to resist anything that might sound hyperbolic in this review because DEINDE will be published on Indie Theater Now, nytheatre.com's sister website, simultaneously with this world premiere production. But I hope you'll believe me when I say that, whether I was about to publish the script or not, DEINDE is one of the smartest, sharpest, and most important new plays of the theatre season. This is the kind of work that the deep-pocketed nonprofit institutions that dominate our theatre ought to be looking for and mounting, and I'm proud to be calling attention to it any way that I can.