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Theater Review: Disposable Necessities

Darrett Sanders, Ann Noble, Billy Flynn and Jefferson Reid in Disposable Necessities

Getting older isn’t for sissies, as Bette Davis supposedly said. But, as Maurice Chevalier noted, it sure beats the alternative.

But what if there were another alternative? Over the decades, scientists and charlatans have introduced many solutions, but mortality remains stubbornly unsolvable – making it the ideal subject for science fiction.

A new play by Neil McGowan, Disposable Necessities, now playing at Rogue Machine Theatre, proposes its own solution: taking the consciousness of a dying person, digitizing it and transferring it to a new body, or “module.” Of course, new modules have to come from somewhere, and in 2095, the play’s setting, they come from dead young people, and are available only to the wealthy.

Disposable Necessities raises provocative questions, but follows only one of them in a significant way: the transfer of a consciousness into a body of a gender different from the original. The main characters are a wealthy couple, apparently in their 80s, housed now in much younger vessels, in one case very different from the original.

The play opens with a well-produced commercial for Life Forever Industries, apparently the industry leader in digitized consciousness transfer. It’s followed by calamitous climate change-related news stories that presumably raise the stakes: what is the impact of extending the lives of humans in a world that may be dying? Unfortunately, this dilemma isn’t referred to again.

Technology is presented as device-free: Daniel (Darrett Sanders) lies on the couch viewing a slideshow and listening to music, both of which are controlled by pointing a finger in the air. He’s interrupted by the return (through a very cool electronic door) of Al (Billy Flynn), his spouse. Al informs him that their 55-year-old son Chadwick has died, but not to worry: he had just uploaded his consciousness and shortly it will be downloaded into his new 24-year-old module.

Claire Blackwelder (“Philip”) and Darrett Sanders (Daniel) in Disposable Necessities

It turns out that a good module is hard to find. Daniel and Al’s friend Phillip (Claire Blackwelder) shows up as a randy young woman. Being a woman might not have been his first choice but now that he’s in her hot body, he’s adjusting. “I hate not peeing standing up,” he/she remarks. It’s not all bad, though: “I went straight home and spent the day playing with myself.”

Apparently in 2095 sexism, racism and ageism that seem outdated even today rage on. Chadwick’s (Jefferson Reid) transfer into the body of an African-American brings warnings to watch out for the police. Philip, a newly minted young woman in the body of a cliched co-ed who drank herself to death at a frat party, jokes, “Obviously it’s just a matter of time until I become a horrible driver.” Al used to be Alice and, while Daniel’s unhappy his wife is now his husband, Al is thrilled he’s finally being recognized in business.

It all feels pretty dated, despite the futuristic timeframe. Even novelist Daniel is fixated on a time before the introduction of the web, 100 years old and apparently still going strong.

Only one character, Daniel and Al(ice)’s daughter Dee (Ann Noble), resists changing modules – and she has cancer (which apparently won’t be cured by 2095). Noble is a nuanced performer, but her character’s one-dimensional anger doesn’t give her much to work with for the bulk of the play.

Disposable Necessities, directed by Guillermo Cienfuegos, dances around some important questions but ultimately frustrates with its frivolous answers.

Disposable Necessities is playing at Rogue Machine Theatre, in Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave. Venice, through Feb. 3. Performance times are Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 7:00pm and Mondays at 8:00, with the exception of Jan. 4 (8:00pm). No performance on Jan 13. Tickets are $40, with special pricing on Dec. 30 ($10) and on Jan. 20 ($20). There is a small parking lot, as well as free street parking and metered lots nearby.

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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