The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence, at Playwrights Horizons, November 16, 2013
George's gimmicky new play, a riff on sidekicks named Watson and their
roles in history (real and fictionalized), is Playwrights Horizons'
latest commission to reach their mainstage.
has merit, four Watsons all played by the same actor (John Ellison
Conlee) flanked by three Mr. and Mrs. Merricks (David Costabile and
Amanda Quaid), covering Sherlock Holmes' doctor friend, Alexander Graham
Bell's assistant Thomas Watson, a computer repairman dweeb Josh Watson,
and a fictional computer successor to IBM's 2011 Watson (a contestant
on television's Jeopardy!).
Ms. George spent a great deal of time trying to add intricacy in
blending the story lines, but in the second act, things begin to
unravel. After carefully allowing for proper costume changes, the
transitions no longer allow the visual to match the script. She also
falls prey to a gratuitous nude scene at the top of Act 2 and an absurd
and superfluous overuse of the word "preternatural."
three-hander bounces about from sub-plot to sub-plot in increasingly
frenetic jumps. Initially, each scene is introduced with a shadowy
variation on the line "Mr. Watson - come here - I want you," the
delivered inflection of which intends to foreshadow the nature of the
following interaction. After all the stumbling around, Bell's infamous
quote becomes an odd moral of the play about one person's commitment to
another, be they spouse, co-worker, whatever in a rambling speech from
Ms. Quaid's contemporary Mrs. Merrick. (Yeah, I was confused, too.)
Leigh Silverman has assembled a talented cast to take on this effort.
Mr. Conlee's brings his four Watsons as much delineation as he can,
though it is the artificial Watson's pleasant dead-pan that rang the
truest. Ms. Quaid fares a bit better in the writing of her Mrs. Merrick
variations, the most contemporary being a brilliant computer engineer
who conceived, built and programmed the artificial-intelligence Watson
with the purpose of gathering input from users to help in medical
diagnoses. Oddly, given a play's "free-pass" in the suspension of
disbelief, Ms. George decides not to name the new computer Watson. (Why
not Dr. Watson, or Watson MD??) Mr. Costabile gets the juiciest
speeches from a political diatribe at the beginning when his account
Merrick is running for local Auditor, to a Holmesian villain inventing
weapons of death. Overall, the performances are consistent, but the flaws in the book hold back both the cast and director.
Thompson's set is serviceable and sufficiently lit by Mark Barton.
Anita Yavich does her best with costumes, but the script interferes with
successful changes more than once.
The...Watson Intelligence runs through December 29. See my previous post for discount ticket information.