Her Own Devices at Kansas City Public Theater
Now through May 19, Her Own Devices, a play written by Lindsay Adams and directed by Elizabeth Bettendorf Bowman is presented at Kansas City Public Theater.
The patron enters. There on a square of white linoleum sits a girl in her pajamas occupied by whatever is on her e-tablet. She shares the space with two robots, one toy-sized, one life-sized. The patron sits, understanding that the lives of the characters began long before she arrived.
That girl there is Madeline (Tehreem Chaudhry), a child infected with a highly contagious, deadly disease. With the patron’s entrance, her story begins. Madeline lives at a high-tech security lab and is the subject of dangerous research executed in the interest of public safety. Madeline is the only key to a much-needed cure.
Boyle (Ryan Fortney) and the newly hired George (Briana Marxen-McCollom) oversee her care as well as monitor peripheral factors like visits from Madeline’s mom Alayna (Deanna Mazdra) and nightmares about the samba-dancing King of Germs (also Fortney).
With maturity comes desire and that desire is the need to explore, to actualize, to be free. Escaping this facility — that at times feels like a hospital and others like a prison – means either beginning the rest of Madeline’s life or it could mean the end of the world. Like, the whole world.
Her Own Devices marries high-brow intelligence with down-home fun setting the appropriate stage for the internal conflict that roils within. Do we want her to stay or do we want her to be free?
What is the purpose of science? Salvation or mere observation? When in solitude, we become the center of the universe. Depth of field, exasperated characters, smashed cupcakes and empty yogurt cups. Man, it’s a heady experience.
There’s this crazy cool crafting in the gambol the actors design with their relationship to each other. Some of it is writing, but generous performances really enliven this already spectacular foray into isolation and imagination.
Fortney is a surprise enchanter with his take on a neurotic guy just running a smarmy experiment. The best actors are the ones who rely on simple techniques like really looking at your scene-mate, actually listening to them and thinking before speaking. Fortney is a natural communicator onstage.
Couple that with the sincerity brought by Marxen-McCollom and it is the perfect framework for the anchor of the show. Chaudhry’s Madeline is both wonder-filled and guarded. Her waltz with her subconscious is the central figure in this microscoping evaluation of the human against science. Robot (Kaitlin Gould) brings optimism and humor and Alayna allows for tenderness.
Sharp acting, visual humor, the piercing wit of the playwright, and a genius with the sound cues twists into an enthralling and sweet headbanger.
In the end, Her Own Devices is a quirky tale of being your own best friend and the hero of your own story.