Capital Fringe Review: ‘R.U.R.’ (Rossum’s Universal Robots) by Grace Kim

Leave it up to humankind to dream up of ways to improve life only to find that improvement biting them in the ass. In R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), this construct is taken to the extreme. How extreme? Well, you’ll have to see the play to find out.

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Written in 1920 by Czech playwright, Karel Čapek, Rossum’s Universal Robots or R.U.R examines the dark side of what could go wrong when robots became the workers and humans were free from work to pursue other things — “…things such as perfecting themselves rather than toiling long days just for bread.” This sounds good in theory but of course, the deeper sentiments behind this play are a statement about society, humanity, genetic engineering, industrial efficiency, and even governments and war.

Brought to the Capital Fringe festival by Naked Theatre Company, their production of R.U.R kept to the original play versus an adaptation and I was glad for that decision. R.U.R was first staged in 1921 and to see it in its true form was a pleasure to see on stage. Directed by Rachael Murray & Cory Cunningham, they skillfully worked a small stage, set with a desk and three cool chairs. Though the set was minimal, the lighting and the cast presented the material so well that your imagination will fill any gaps.

And speaking of, bravo to the cast for being able to stay focused while right outside the theatre door, the sounds from the raging Fringe revelers and the loud band playing in the Baldacchino Tent filtered right through the door and filled the theater with background noise.  Actually, bravo to the audience as well for tolerating the distraction. Perhaps for some, it kept them awake since the room has no air-conditioning and the running time of the play is 95 minutes–that could be a long time for some to sit through a dialogue-heavy play with almost no visuals.

I enjoyed watching Mike Rudden (Harry Domin) and Shaina Higgins (Helena Glory) play the lead roles but I found myself having a soft spot for Bob Rosenberg (Dr. Gall) with his voice and mannerisms. There was a lot of exuberance from Adam R. Adkins (Hallemeier), Elliot Bales (Alquist), Adiyh Muhammad (Marius, Radius), and Tanya Chattman (Sulla, Nana)–you could tell they were really into their roles! I also enjoyed watching both Ryan Andrew Mitchell (Busman) and Will MacLeod (Fabry) who aptly acting out their roles as well and took on their characters in way that made me like them, maybe because they were nerdy and slightly overacting – but in a good way. Making an entrance at the end was Kathryn Zoerb (Robot Helena) and Eugene Fertelmeyster (Primus) who breathed fresh life onto the stage as the play wound down.

R.U.R is worth seeing on stage if you’re familiar with the play (or not). Since I’m aware that the chances of seeing R.U.R on stage again is small, it made me happy that Naked Theatre Company decided to stage this, and that Capital Fringe exists as an outlet.

Running Time: 95 minutes.

R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) plays through July 27, 2013 at Fort Fringe – The Shop – 607 New York Avenue NW, in Washington, D.C. For performance times and to purchase tickets, visit the show’s Capital Fringe page.

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