2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘Algorithmism’

Traditionally, one of the defining factors of human civilization is a society that creates art. But are the hand, mind, and emotions of the artist integral parts of the creative process, or can the subjective human element inherent in art and creativity be replaced by artificial intelligence and a mathematical formula? Can an artist, as a commercial gallery’s economic commodity, continue to crank out masterpieces on command, or are there natural periods of inspiration and artist’s block? Is an artist a sell-out for incorporating the latest technology and popular trends into the work to make it more marketable and the process less torturous? Those are some of the fascinating issues raised in Chaos Theatre’s Algorithmism, written by Alex Hersler and produced by The Present Theatre Company.

Terrence Montgomery and Sean Shannon. Photo by Kent Meister.
Terrence Montgomery and Sean Shannon. Photo by Kent Meister.

Sean Shannon and Terrence Montgomery star in the intelligent, amusing, and thought-provoking two-hander as Paul, a well-known artist in his thirties whose popularity and creative juices have begun to fade, and Tom, the older high-end gallery owner who has represented him for ten years but is reassessing their situation after the “debacle” of the artist’s last solo show. With their long-time association in jeopardy, they face off and debate the meaning of art and their personal motivations for a career in the art world, revealing their true colors and the expectations they have of each other, and exposing the not uncommon evolution of an artist’s development, changes in public taste, and cycles in art history. The question remains: will art created by algorithms become the next movement in the art historical sequence of ‘isms’–from Impressionism through Post-Modernism to the titular Algorithmism?

Playwright Alex Hersler.
Playwright Alex Hersler.

Under Richard C. Aven’s direction, the actors balance the men’s explosive confrontations with the shifting dynamics of their power and reversals in their thinking and behavior, creating compelling multi-faceted figures in a complex relationship that is at times funny (Tom finds the latest AI works “incredible!” while Paul calls them “math puke”), but often painful in their insults, threats, and deeds. A few movable props (design by Hersler) easily move the action from Tom’s office to Paul’s studio, costumes by Susanne Houstle define the personalities of the characters as they develop and devolve, and a subtle sound design by Drew Nungesser contrasts digital compositions with traditional tribal music, in keeping with the thematic premise of robotic versus handmade art—including, by extension, such provocative human works of live theater as Algorithmism.

Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission.

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Algorithmism plays through Wednesday, August 24, 2016, performing at Abrazo Interno at the Clement – 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd floor, in New York City. Purchase tickets online.

LINK:
2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘Till Birnam Wood’ by Deb Miller.

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Deb Miller
Deb has written reviews, interviews, and feature articles for Stage Magazine, theartblog, and Inferno, and is a lead writer for Phindie.com and the Philadelphia Arts and Culture Correspondent for Central Voice. She is a judge for Theatre Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, and previously was a Voter for the awards under the former Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. Deb holds a PhD in Art History from the University of Delaware, has served as a Commonwealth Speaker for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, and has taught at the U of D, Bryn Mawr, Rutgers-Camden, Hussian School of Art, and Rowan University.