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February 9th, 2011 BEN WATERHOUSE | Performance
 

Futura (Portland Center Stage)

Beware Jeff Bezos!

Performance_Futura_3714LORI LARSEN - IMAGE: Portland Center Stage/Owen Carey
     
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Jordan Harrison’s dystopic sci-fi drama takes its name from Paul Renner’s sans-serif typeface, employed by Volkswagen, HP and, until recently, IKEA, but its subject is more PMN Caecilia, the default font on the Kindle. Harrison fears a future where the flow of information is controlled by corporations whose customers surrender their literary heritage and freedom of expression in the name of convenience. The bogeymen here is Amazon, which has no qualms about stealthily deleting works from its customers’ e-readers, or maybe Google, whose ubiquitous free online applications could make Orwellian surveillance a cinch. Harrison sees no silver lining to the Cloud. 

Futura begins with a lecture on the history of typography, delivered with the aid of beautiful slides (designed by Luke Norby) by an acerbic professor (Lori Larsen) to a class of students who have never beheld paper. It’s a sharp, broad-ranging lesson, touching on Gutenberg, Baskerville and Times New Roman, and it was greeted with smug giggles by the audience of design snobs who’d skipped the last quarter of the Super Bowl to attend. The chuckling ceased abruptly at the beginning of the second act, as the play takes a violent and disquieting turn when the professor encounters a terrorist group bent on restoring to humanity its literary birthright. Harrison’s argument is not entirely cerebral; the stage does not go unbloodied.

The play is philosophical fiction in the tradition of Farenheit 451 and Brave New World, and Harrison’s premise is as farfetched, and much of his dialog as blatantly didactic, as those of his predecessors in the genre. But he fully commits to his vision of a world without writing, which is brought vividly to life by director Kip Fagan. Nothing in Futura feels thoughtless: from the Multi-touch-like motions with which Larsen manipulates her presentation to the smashed electronics, broken for fear of bugging, that fill the terrorist hideout. With the help of Mimi Lien’s origamilike scenic design and Casi Pacilio’s buzzing soundscape, Fagan achieves the solidity of place that so often evades theatrical sci-fi.


SEE IT: Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700, pcs.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 7:30 pm Saturdays-Sundays, noon Thursdays except March 17 and 24. Closes March 27. 

 
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