‘Robo’ imagines dystopian yet comedic near-future

“Our goal is to celebrate our differences,” said Alex Fancy, director of Tintamarre’s latest installment, Robo. A foray into what it means to be an individual and into the value of dissent, Robo interrogates a posthumanist near-future that is inextricable from the realities of our past. Indeed, the bilingual format of the play provides a linguistic environment which, in conjunction with the plot, anchors Robo’s motifs within a familiar framework.

Much like the Cold War setting of 1956 that the student characters pretend to inhabit, they themselves are subject to surveillance and an imposed culture of acquiescence. Outside the hidden alcove where much of the drama takes place, the drones patrolling outside the school’s walls and the rigid conventionalism of their academic and social environment compels the students to imagine and retreat to a space and time where they can articulate their individual realities. In this neglected area of the school, among the self-aware but immobile loudspeaker and vending machine, one wonders whether it is the machines or the students that are more confined.

“[The students] feel that they are under surveillance,” said Fancy. “We’re trying to show that there are a lot of similarities between surveillance in 2016 and surveillance in 1956.”

Bobo, an “android misfit” character played by Mitchell Gunn, provokes questions about the nature of individualism and the contradictions humans display. The dichotomous treatment of animals, sarcasm and other human complexities are utter mysteries to Bobo, which provides a source of humour as well as an opportunity to reflect on the ways in which we justify our behaviour.

If self-definition is the start of an individual, Robo demonstrates ways in which individuals’ selves collide as a result of their differences. Bobo’s autonomy, lack of human nuance and struggle to construct an understanding of the world elicit reactions from the students, ranging from compassion, to disgust, to fear. Uncomfortable with the presence of an “other,” the android’s counterparts betray our instinct to suppress the “other” physically or through less visibly violent consensus. Karl’s fuming animosity toward Bobo, as well as the android’s anxious pronouncement to “delete everything,” become the product of erupting incompatibility within the group of students. Dissent and a mutual understanding that assimilation cultivates toxicity then form the context through which the characters can navigate their challenges.

Most notably, Robo does not offer a contrived solution to the issues of individualism within the production. To be able to face questions about themselves and their future together, the characters learn to celebrate their differences and to accommodate spaces in which others can self-define. As Fancy put it, “Perhaps they don’t agree, but at least their ears are open.”

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