Play Review: YSU’s ‘It’s a Small World’ Is Futuristic but Very Human

By J.E.Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Everybody knows the song “It’s a Small World,” and if you have ever taken a ride on the Disney theme park attraction of that name, you may never want to hear that song again – EVER!

Well, don’t worry. If you attend the YSU Theatre Department production of “It’s a Small World, or the Robot Play,” you won’t hear that jingle even once. Not even a few notes of it. The original play, by YSU alum Amber Palmer, opened at the Spotlight Theatre on the YSU campus Friday night.

“It’s a Small World” is futuristic in nature in that in takes place in a world where robots and people interact and artificial intelligence (AI) runs amok. Some people think we are there already; after all, everything you say in front of your computer somehow comes back to visit you later.

It seems that Cyrus, a coffee maker that was rebuilt into a robot by Adam, was left behind when the two visited Disney World. Anne, a friend of Adam’s, is the only person he knows who can drive Cyrus back to Adam’s home in western New York.

Sounds simple enough, right? The trip is eventful on many levels. Lauren Ladd turns in a wonderful performance as Anne. A multilayered character, she is truly believable as she passes through the many facets of this complicated individual. She is light, breezy, sarcastic and somewhat carefree in her opening scene – but that changes.

The audience soon learns that she has had an addiction problem and has not been able to totally break herself free from relapses. Ladd plays the darker side of Anne with skill and precision. Her total involvement in the character is clear as she can switch from comedy to drama with equal comfort.

Her robot friend, Cyrus, played by Aidan Holderfield is a poetry spouting machine in the first scene – complete with flashing lights, a circuit board and a lithium battery. Holderfield is very convincing as a “nonhuman” repurposed coffee maker. He makes it clear what he is programmed to do and what is outside of his realm as a machine.

What makes Cyrus interesting, as well as Holderfield, is how well the actor holds to the character.

Speaking in a monotone mechanical speech pattern is not easy to hold on to. But Holderfield never makes a slip, even as the audience witnesses him slowly morphing to resembling more of a human than a robot. Cyrus is also a many layered character and Holderfield handles the show’s transition with barely a visible seam. Even Cyrus can see that Anne’s relapses are a result of her many excuses for not succeeding. Audience members can see Anne become more empathetic to Cyrus, and they also share in that feeling. Even Cyrus’s affection for a red toaster oven named Ruby seems even palpable in this offbeat story.

Adam, Anne’s lifelong best friend and the creator of Cyrus, is well played by Gunnar Carwile. Adam is fighting his own problems as his wife has left him and his son has died.

The audience comes to find out that the creation of Cyrus was a substitute for Adam’s son, Cyrus. Carwile does a convincing job in the portrayal of the tortured Adam as he goes back and forth on wanting Cyrus returned and not wanting him back. He sees him as a reminder of his son but still as a machine, whereas Anne sees a more human side to Cyrus.

Others in the cast who give good performances are Cherish Michele, Anthony Mudryk and Olivia Vargas. Laynee Sanger is particularly memorable as the giddy, pot smoking Museum of Lost Things curator, a place well suited to both Anne and Cyrus.

Director Todd Dicken has put together a very interesting and thought provoking production. His casting is well thought out and his attention to detail really infuses the production with realism to a futuristic background.

As usual, kudos to Katherine Garlick for costume design – particularly for Cyrus with his many faceted electronics that all worked flawlessly.

Set design was very simple and sparse with varied sizes of boxes being mixed and matched to whatever scene was needed, along with a car steering wheel for the car scenes. All of this is backed by projections to express a locale. Anything more would have detracted from the characters themselves.

Many people say that computers have already taken over everything and a lot of times, I have to agree. How many times have I fought with my own computer because it made a mistake – oh, sorry, I’m told computers never make a mistake. Get over to the YSU Theatre Department and catch “It’s a Small World.” It may give you more insight into who the computer is: you, or the thing sitting on your desk.
It’s a Small World continues Feb. 17, 23, 24 at 7:30 p.m.; Feb. 18, 25 2 p.m.

Pictured at top: Aidan Holderfield and Lauren Ladd in a scene from YSU Theatre’s production of “It’s a Small World, or The Robot Play.”

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