VOLT Festival in New York
Plays by Karen Hartman at 59E59 Theaters
By: Susan Hall - May 23, 2022
New Golden Age
written by Karen Hartman
directed by Jade King Carroll
Karen Hartman’s work launches VOLT at 59E59 Theaters, an unprecedented festival of three simultaneous off-Broadway premieres by a single author. Denver Theater Center presented the world premiere musical Rattlesnake Kate, book by Hartman with a score by Neyla Pekarek earlier this year. Resident Off-Broadway Theater Company Primary Stages produces.
New Golden Age, one of her three plays now running, attributes its intellectual origins to the work of Shoshanna Zolub, who writes about modern corporate surveillance and Lina Khan, now head of the Federal Trade Commission and author of a viral law article on revisions to the concept of antitrust responding to the development of companies like Amazon.
The heart of the play is in concepts of brain implants, proposed by some to increase our memories, and also addiction to devices and its consequences.
Characters are fully human, even a mega billionaire Matt, who is looking for a way to humanize our new connectivity. Two sisters become polar opposites. A humanitarian Professor leads a movement to rebuild 'natural alone behavior' and the restoration of intimacy. Her half sister Polly hasn’t worked for six years, so she accepts a job with Sunlight, the company that implants Sun. Sun opens up new surveillance horizons. It makes intellectual property theft easy.
Connectivity is explored. We could see the wires running from telephone pole to telephone pole. Monitors on the rails of the baby's cribs were obvious. As infants we knew the gaze. Government's started wiretapping, but not for private use. Professor Lin notes that one President got impeached for wiretapping.
Professor Lin finds herself in a room just very hot, a few degrees hotter than a hot yoga class, which also encourages self-disclosure.
What is being mined here is a high level of personal data, an individual’s Tale. The process is revealed by a bit of psycho drama with alternate role playing Polly becomes Lin.
Anyone who has been around the new millennials whose devices seem to grow out of their ears and hands knows how dangerous this merger is. It makes listening easier for the corporations, who distribute "New Suns.” As this device is installed, swabs collect genetic material and allow the manufacturer to glean intimate information about a person.
The play enthralls. Performances are soft yet firm like Professor Lin’s (Mahira Kakkr), a bit brusk in Polly Claire Siebers). Confusion suffuses Silas (Ricardy Febre) and confidence, Mat (Doug Harris). Carmen Castillo as Jace sings. Jade King Carroll's direction impels us into a new dystopian universe.
The sinister process of personal takeover is frightening, in part because, when you think about it, that future is here. The play's title suggests the "Golden age" of Hesiod, a purely mythical period. Yet it has come to mean a time in which society has reached greater heights than periods preceding and following it. The play is as rich in irony as its title. See it!
Running through June 9th. Tickets available here.