nytheatre.com review by Nancy Kim
June 26, 2008
While more and more transactions and interactions have moved online, from buying things to paying bills, a few of us may still prefer to interact with someone to take care of these tasks. Increasingly, though, instead of an actual person, we are encountering an automated voice on the other end of a phone, helping us facilitate these exchanges, in particular the female automated voice, as pointed out in solo performance artist Krista DeNio's program notes for Sally M.I.A. Observing these daily interactions, DeNio presents her superbly chilling exploration of the relationship between the automated voice and ourselves.
DeNio plays Sally, who, we learn later, has been abducted and rebuilt and is referred to as "Prototype 50382," a post-human automated operator of sorts for a program that serves as the central system for all transactions, acquisitions, and interactions. The "Central Auto Response Electro System" (given the seemingly benign acronym CARES) employs Prototype 50382 to respond to all calls "civilian or military," from selecting movies to reporting suspicious activity.
The science fiction aspect of this presentation is compelling, but the visceral and challenging work here is DeNio's precise physical movement in translating a human body into one that is "non-human." Sprawled face down at the beginning, DeNio then rebuilds herself as a reanimated non-human being, bringing to mind a newborn mechanical colt. The control of her body is remarkable from a flick of fingers in one hand to the full body lumbering and balancing. The design for the production is especially effective, with Liz Stanton's sound design providing a symphony of digital white noise and Luiza Silva's dramatic headset for DeNio, which reminded me of a frightening medieval orthodontic headpiece.
DeNio first speaks a collage of phrases that sounds scrambled but soon turns into coherent sentences all spoken in the pleasant and even-toned automated voice of Prototype 50382. We eventually hear some of the interactions that Prototype 50382 has with callers, which range from amusing to frustratingly familiar. Unfortunately, the system breaks down as Prototype 50382 seems to have glitches when we hear Sally's human voice, mostly the fragments of one-sided dialogue with her partner Simon.
This is a challenging piece but truly thought-provoking. With dramaturgy and direction by Ashley Hughes, Sally M.I.A. takes the grand themes of humanity vs. technology and creates a performance art piece that provokes much deeper contemplation. As we take for granted the increasing replacement of actual human interaction with a digital simulacrum, DeNio is investigating the implications of what happens in these interactions and a glimpse of what it may cost us at the end.