Vortex Repertory’s A Perfect Robot

Sarah Saltwick's timely script elegantly explores the tension between idealized automatons and messy humans

Ghost with the machine: Amelia Turner’s Mollybot (l) consults Joey Hood’s spirit of Alan Turing. (Photo by Errich Petersen)

Every man has an idea of what makes the perfect woman, and perhaps that's where the problem starts. In a world saturated with airbrushed images of the female form, lifeless sex dolls, and virtual pornography full of submissive and willing participants, men's visions of the ideal companion often skew into the unnatural and flat-out impossible.

However, in the Vortex Repertory Company's world premiere of A Perfect Robot, Diego (played by a very sincere Jesus I. Valles) is a roboticist who deals in the impossible. His creation, Mollybot, is not only a physical facsimile of a human woman, she is also the ultimate helpmeet – possessing artificial intelligence that passes the Turing Test (meaning that Mollybot exhibits behavior indistinguishable from a human being).

Shortly after the play begins, Diego frantically reprograms Mollybot and disappears – along with her personality. George, his lab and business partner (Trey Deason), is left alone to meet Daisy (Andreá Smith), a powerful investor who wishes to mass-produce Mollybot and put her on the market as a companion for men everywhere. But Mollybot is no longer herself. Her essence locked away in a password-protected file, she has been reduced to a very fancy version of Siri.

With Diego nowhere to be found, Daisy and George recruit Maddie (Diego's college girlfriend and the one that got away, played pitch-perfectly by Sarah Danko) to unlock Mollybot's AI file. As the specter of Alan Turing bears witness, Mollybot is mercilessly pummeled with the same directive ("Show us your best self") until, at last, the code is cracked, Mollybot's "soul" is restored, and Maddie comes face-to-face with a perfected version of herself – a version that can be owned.

Sarah Saltwick's script elegantly explores what happens when we reject the natural world for a perceived ideal and how the urge to control, buy, and sell women can replace the idea of love with the idea of possession. It is a timely work – this past weekend, we witnessed the largest mass protest on American soil from women who, after being subjected to generations of abuse, are standing strong and united, rejecting ownership, and demanding to be treated like equal human beings.

From beginning to end, A Perfect Robot is a perfect production. Ann Marie Gordon's sleek, spartan set gives way to captivating projections courtesy of video designer Eliot Gray Fisher, and David DeMaris' sound design adds layers of high-tech cacophony to the mix. Furthermore, under Rudy Ramirez's direction, every single performance is noteworthy. From Joey Hood's turn as Alan Turing (which features excellent accent work) to Amelia Turner's complete and pristine commitment to Mollybot, the ensemble weaves a technological dream turned heartbreak.

In a world of AI, RealDolls, and virtual girlfriends, A Perfect Robot is a morality tale that reminds women of the value of our glorious and messy imperfections, our ambitions, our passions, our intellect, and our dreams. They are what make us feel the most human. They are what make us truly beautiful, and embracing them sets us free.

A Perfect Robot

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 512/478-5282
Through Feb. 11
Running time: 2 hr.

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Vortex Repertory Company, Sarah Saltwick, Rudy Ramirez, Jesus I. Valles, Amelia Turner, Joey Hood, Andreá Smith, Trey Deason, Sarah Danko, Ann Marie Gordon, Eliot Gray Fisher, David DeMaris

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