In this vision of the future, an apocalypse has decimated the U.S. population. That causes a shake-up in the political system, placing every adult in Congress. The Horse in Motion production runs through April 29.
Among all the obvious downsides to a population-decimating apocalypse, surely there would be a few silver linings, like say, no more disingenuous political posturing. That might be nice.
Nope, says Brendan Pelsue, playwright of “Wellesley Girl,” a clever satire of American exceptionalism set almost 450 years from now in a United States that has dwindled to just a few walled towns in Massachusetts.
In this vision of the future, the political system’s centrality to American life has only become magnified. So has the grandstanding. The population remains just large enough to fill out the House of Representatives, so now every adult is a member of Congress. Well, everybody except one — she’s the Supreme Court justice.
by Brendan Pelsue. Through April 29, a Horse in Motion production, 18th and Union, Seattle; $17, $28 (thehorseinmotion.org).
“Wellesley Girl” represents a new tack for The Horse in Motion, which presents the West Coast premiere of the play. The company has previously staged an immersive, nonlinear production of Martin Crimp’s aggressively experimental “Attempts on Her Life” and a trio of intertwined Bertolt Brecht plays, accompanied by breakfast in burlesque bar Can Can.
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“Wellesley Girl” has a somewhat unusual conceit, but is a completely straightforward play with an almost thrillerlike narrative efficiency. Director Bobbin Ramsey, who has helmed the other Horse in Motion projects, clearly isn’t bored by just a “normal play,” and the staging has its own peculiar energy.
Humanity’s stubborn adherence to outdated modes of thinking is just one of the concerns of Pelsue’s script, which focuses on compelling character snapshots and doesn’t get too bogged down in ponderous allegorical broadsides.
The play begins after the arrival of a mysterious group of people outside the country’s walls has thrown the government into crisis mode, with RJ (Ben Phillips) arguing for a diplomatic approach and Scott (Mario Orallo-Molinaro) urging a pre-emptive strike.
Caught in the middle are wife-and-husband Marie (Sunam Ellis) and Max (Joseph Shaw); she’s dismayed at the reckless manipulation being espoused and what she sees as the unconscionable apathy of her husband, who hasn’t been voting on recent proposals. Max is paralyzed by fear, but he’s also obsessed with what could have been, lingering over conversation with neighbor and former flame Garth (Shaudi Bianca Vahdat).
The apocalypse hasn’t snuffed out romantic conflicts either, and that’s especially true for Garth, whose relationship with empathetic robot Hank (Nic Morden) is far more complicated than typical sentient/nonsentient interactions.
In a society where no one is just a cog, individual actions take on extraordinary significance, and no one understands that better than Donna (Laura Steele), the justice so committed to her role that she issues a couple of dissents alongside her majority opinion.
That’s a good line, and it’s far from the only one to provoke easy laughter. Pelsue’s wit extends to bits about robot self-awareness and the unabashed doublespeak of self-interested parties (Scott: “The opacity of our laws gives them clarity”).
But things can only stay funny for so long, particularly amid talk of “scorched earth” policies that don’t sound too dissimilar to some of the saber-rattling taking place in 2017.
In 2465, a kind of democracy has survived, but that means only so much when the humans populating it are still terrifyingly fragile.