by JK Clarke
Historically, visions of the future have been optimistic about the quality of the people therein. The Jetsons always showed happy, zippy people in flying cars; and even dystopian visions of tomorrowland tend to show energized, smart, intense people. Only a small handful of satirical examples (most notably Mike Judge’s seminal film Idiocracy, which envisions a future of pornography-obsessed, electrolyte swilling imbeciles) show a future civilization significantly dumbed down by the advantages provided by modern technology. Steve of Tomorrow, a 45-minute show—part of HERE’s Dream Music Puppetry Program this winter—which concludes this evening, is a madcap vision of a future-man, Steve, who accepts an open invitation to the present by a sci-fi and time-travel obsessed blogger, Ralph (Lisa Clair), with promises of free lodging during the coming uber-hurricane (which has been seeded for extra power and higher TV ratings). Steve is passive, lazy and, quite frankly, kind of a jerk and Ralph’s roommate/boyfriend, Scott (David Commander, who also co-directs along with Rob Ramirez) can’t stand him and doesn’t want him there. This isn’t at all what Ralph had in mind when he envisioned a time-traveler crashing on his couch.
While there’s definitely purpose to the storyline, the production’s real draw is the frenzy of multi-media and puppetry production value. The set is like an ADD-addled, tech-obsessed, 15-year-old’s bedroom, with a video screen that slides back and forth between the two sets. On the right is a sofa, representing Ralph and Scott’s home. They, in turn, are represented by small-ish puppet bodies with long, human-esque hands and a flat-screen monitor as a head, on which is live (or seemingly so) video (Janelle Miau) of a live-action (that is to say, real) human head, whose lips move while the black and white stripe-clad puppeteers speak—the output of which is reverberating, double-layered vocals, which are a little unnerving at times and not always easy to understand. Nonetheless, it’s all pretty technically complex.
Meanwhile, in the other room, as the screen slides to the right, is a news set for Barbie-esque dolls, giving urgent, but joyful reports on the corporate-sponsored hurricane. It’s news-as-reality-tv, done in an equally sardonic, Ken-and-Barbie style as Team America: World Police, the 2004 satirical action film send-up done by South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.
Steve of Tomorrow is a chaotic, message-laden, technical maelstrom of a puppet show that’s bound to interest lovers of the medium, as well as those curious about perhaps a more realistic view of what the world of tomorrow might look like. The final performance is tonight at HERE, but it will no doubt be surfacing again at other festivals.
Steve of Tomorrow. Part of HERE’s Dream Music Puppetry Program. Final performance, Saturday, March 19 at 7PM at HERE (145 Sixth Avenue, entrance on Dominick Street, one block south of Spring Street). www.here.org
Photos by Maria Baranova