There’s a reason that the second rule of Fight Club is the same as the first rule of Fight Club. Because Tyler Durden (and by extension, author Chuck Palahniuk) understood that it’s human nature to break rules. First rule of Fight Club – don’t talk about Fight Club. Second Rule of Fight Club: DO NOT talk about Fight Club. So what did people do?
What does this have to do with August Schulenberg’s new play DEINDE? Simple. DEINDE – a sci-fi story of quantum biologists who use a Dineural Entangled Intelligence Network DEvice [a "clumsy acronym, really, not even a real E at the end"] to “loop in” in order to juice their brains so that they can be smart enough to cure a virus that has been killing the world’s population – begins with four simple rules:
- When using DEINDE do not think of anything other than work.
- Do not keep the connection to DEINDE live outside of work.
- Do not use DEINDE to communicate with each other.
- Do not use DEINDE to accss the world online.
Sounds so easy to follow, right? So did “Don’t talk about Fight Club” and we all know how that turned out.
The rest of the play is about how those looped in to DEINDE systematically break the rules as they find themselves becoming addicted to the unnameable and unbelievable power that overtakes them, courtesy of this strange and wonderful and terrifying new level of understanding.
The play itself begins with a chess match – a conventional one – which then thematically unfolds throughout the entire play, on a much more subtle level. In the first scene the game is being played on a recognizable board and the notion of checkmate has no hidden meaning or agenda. On one side of the board we have Cooper (David Ian Lee) who plays a very analytic and thoughtful game where he tries to see every available move before he proceeds. However he doesn’t have the intuitive leap to be able to move beyond what is in front of him in order to win the match. On the other side of the board there is the older, wiser Malcolm (Ken Glickfeld) who is the embodiment of 95 years of trial and error. This dictates not just how he plays a chess match, but how he moves through life. While it seems that he is using intimidation and brio to distract his opponent in actuality he doesn’t need this slight of hand – he’s won the game anyway, based on his innate knowledge which comes from something that can’t be taught – something that can only be experienced. By zeroing in on the fatal flaw of his opponent rather than relying on the limitations of his own body of knowledge, he is able to win the game.
DEINDE works with this theme throughout the play; constantly pitting two sides against each other with much higher stakes, and a checkmate which implies not just the end of a game but perhaps the end of human progress. The battle is between information vs. intuition, intelligence vs. maturity, wisdom vs. knowledge. If you’re paying attention it’s easy to see how the moves will play out – but nonetheless thrilling to watch as they unfold.
There’s a lot of science here – this is, after all, a sci-fi tale, but it’s laid out in a way that is conversational, interactive and engaging. If some of it goes over your head, well, that’s almost the meta-point.
DEINDE is what would happen if Charly and Sybil had a love child who evolved at the speed of light. If you remember your high school reading assignments, Flowers For Algernon dealt with Charly (or Charlie), a learning-disabled man who is chosen by a team of scientists to boost his intelligence. As Charly becomes self aware, and soon hyper-intelligent he becomes disenchanted both with his former self as well as those around him whom he once admired. Similarly, Jenni and Mac – the young, eager (already brilliant) quantum biologists who undergo the DEINDE process find themselves on this same road – unable to return to the blandness of the existence they had before they looped in. So they simply don’t.
As they further break the rules they become reliant upon the technology, even as they surpass it. Those around them, once considered mentors, colleagues and advisers are now considered troglodytes. Speaking with them is like ”talking through tar” to Jenni and Mac who are on an accelerated path – always. Further, as they break rule number 3 they find themselves justifying their own behavior to (and with) each other, as they now are “one person in two bodies” who still speak out loud to each other, but in unison because it “feels grounding, like we’re still human in some meaningful way”. Further they decide they are there “not … to abolish the law but to fulfill Man’s destiny”. Yes. They are THAT GOOD. Or so they think.
But there are consequences for breaking the rules. Not punishments. Consequences.
Throughout the play in every way director Heather Cohn balances precision with chaos. Will Lowry’s set and scenic design is awash in mathematical equations, written in a steady hand and proving the undeniable. Electronic devices are clear lucite and allow for anything since they are beholden to nothing. Martha Goode’s sound design brings scenes crackling to life with music that is classical, indicating moments which are very calculated and decisive, straightforward and blunt. This makes the dischord which begins once the rules are broken all the more salient and pronounced – where things once were clear and ordered they are now explosive and uncontrollable.
Similarly the acting is in perfect balance; a composed and measured Nabanita (Nitya Vidyasagar) is in perfect counterbalance to the (at first) bouncy, youthful, Mac (Isaiah Tanenbaum) and Jenni (Rachael Hip-Flores) who move quickly to manic and frenzied. Cooper and Malcolm do fantastic work in the middle ground, showing both compassion and tolerance in the face of a technology that is terrifying, wonderful and unquantifiable.
Another strong Flux Theatre Ensemble production which melds science with sentiment and allows the “what if”s to paint a picture of possibility. Beautiful and meaningful – not to be missed.
DEINDE Written by August Schulenburg Directed by Heather Cohn
Now until May 12 The Secret Theatre 44-02 23rd St, Long Island City, NY
Click Here for tickets