Review: ‘The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence’ by City of Fairfax Theatre Company

In this age of devices, the continuing evolution of man’s relationship with technology has been the subject of many studies and stories. Madeleine George’s play, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence, is one of those works.

The City of Fairfax Theatre Company is currently presenting a wonderful production of this brilliantly thought-provoking piece.

Adam Ressa (Watson) and Katie Kramer (Eliza) in City of Fairfax Theatre Company's production of 'The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence.' Photo by Rebecca Kalant-Kelling.
Adam Ressa (Watson) and Katie Kramer (Eliza) in City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s production of ‘The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence.’ Photo by Rebecca Kalant-Kelling.

The play follows the development of communications technology and their effect on human interactions, both positive and negative, by focusing on pivotal points in time. Fifty years after Bell’s 1876 invention of the telephone, his colleague Thomas A. Watson recalls in an interview that first transmission by cable, “Mr. Watson-come here-I want you.” In the late 1800s Sherlock Holmes’ partner, Dr. Watson, takes on a curious case in Holmes’ absence, involving new machinery that will make advances in technology. In 2011, the Watson computer system (named after IBM creator Thomas Watson) went on Jeopardy and beat the two current champions, answering live questions with normal human interaction. And in the present day, IT dweeb Watson goes on a call to fix a man’s computer and ends up falling in love.

The play jumps back and forth to each of these moments, with three actors playing all of the characters. The Watsons are played by Adam Ressa. He quickly transforms from one character to the next, spanning over two centuries and including an AI robot.

Katie Kramer plays the various forms of Eliza. At one point, she interviews Watson on a radio show, then searches for Holmes to solve the mystery of her husband’s erratic behavior. She later becomes a modern day-technological innovator, who is working to perfect the programming of her AI robot while searching for balance between work and a loving relationship.

Kevin Dykstra is Merrick, future politician and ex-husband to the present-day Eliza, and also the 19th-century inventor of the mechanized gun, who is experimenting on his wife.

The cast does a magnificent job distinguishing each of the characters with different speech styles and mannerisms. With the help of excellent period costuming, fitted with quick rigging (designed by Isabelle Baucum and Jillian Mouton), every transition is clear, and the characters are believable.

Adam Ressa (Watson) in City of Fairfax Theatre Company's production of 'The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence.' Photo by Rebecca Kalant-Kelling.
Adam Ressa (Watson) in City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s production of ‘The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence.’ Photo by Rebecca Kalant-Kelling.

If that all sounds complicated, it is. But, fortunately, Director Chuck Leonard has done a magnificent job weaving these scenes, time hops, and characters in a very natural way.

The set (designed by D. Scott Graham) is small and quaint with a chaise and a large wood paneled wall of shelving, which includes a built-in fireplace and a small raised area with a desk and chair. The fireplace hides a pullout platform, which can also double as a bed.

Because of the nature of the space, scene changes are partially lit, which does take from the momentum of the show, but they are kept relatively short and lighting, also designed by Graham, makes it clear when a scene is in action.

The play touches on the growing relationship that people have with electronics and the ways in which human connection has been eroded. But the material is in no way preachy. The play itself is a bit long-winded but the actors keep the audience engaged with incredibly sincere and compelling performances.

The City of Fairfax Theatre Company’s production of The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence is an exceptional piece of theater that explores the complicated connection between humans and technology. The story is fascinating, and the small cast is captivating. This is definitely an intellectual journey not to be missed. Congratulations to the production team on creating a brilliant experience.

Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.

The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence plays through May 11, 2019, at City of Fairfax Theatre Company at Old Town Hall – 3999 University Drive, in Fairfax VA. For tickets, purchase them online.

Amanda C. Herman, Artistic Director; Kirsten Boyd, Producing Director/Producer; Phil Natalini, Sound Design; Anna Zakreski, Stage Manager; Jacob Ferchaud, Producer.