Good news: In the future, caftans make a comeback and toilet technology will be amazing. Bad news: Your house will know where you are and what you're thinking at all times, the water will taste terrible and it will be too hot to ever go outside.
In the world premiere of Gordon Dahlquist's Tomorrow Come Today, now playing at Undermain Theatre, we get a glimpse of life on this ailing planet 700 years from now. The sci-fi noir drama follows two main characters, Carol and Poul, as they hopscotch back and forth across centuries, landing in different bodies. Actors switch roles in each of the play's three acts, cast in a leading part in one section, a faceless robot servant in another. Confusing? A little. But also a captivating gimmick that keeps the audience guessing.
Directed by Undermain's guiding force, Katherine Owens, this detour from the company's usual choice of obtuse scripts about unpleasant people has invigorated them. There's electricity in this show, in the playwright's words and in the strong, sexy performances by Montgomery Sutton, Jenny Ledel, Shannon Kearns, Gregory Lush, Vanessa DeSilvio, Ricco Fajardo and Ruben Carrazana.
Dahlquist's play challenges our ideas about the future based on the rotten state we're already in. Instead of the flying cars futurists once imagined would fill our skies by the year 2000, we have purple ozone warnings and fatal enteroviruses. The summer that just ended was the hottest ever recorded. In Dahlquist's view, this is proof that we're doomed. Life down the line, he says in Tomorrow Come Today, will be comfortable only for wealthy people and big corporations. You know, just like it is in the present.
The difference is, in 2714 the super-rich will be able to purchase immortality thanks to "remote transfer chips" that allow them to escape their sick or injured bodies and pop into healthier hosts. In the first act of Tomorrow, Sutton, Dallas theater's young leading man of the moment, plays Poul, waking up half-nude in new form after his former body was blown up in a terrorist act in a Denver office tower.
"Do you feel like breaking yourself in?" his girlfriend purrs as he drops the bedsheet. (To avoid spoilers, some names of characters and who plays them won't be revealed here. Also, sometimes it's hard to figure out who is playing whom at any given moment, and what the gobbledygook they're spouting means. They'll hand you a study guide at the box office. Study it.)
In the fast-moving dialogue, we catch bits of jargon that provide clues to why and how people are able to zap themselves through time and space. Carol has transferred 18 times for an average of 22 years each. Poul has transferred into 46 different bods. He keeps moving because someone is trying to kill him. Carol keeps following because she loves him.
For the third act, Dahlquist puts these two and their pursuer into the wayback machine to 2014, where we find out about an invention that could have cleaned up the filthy planet and kept air conditioners running for free for all eternity. But that threatened the big-polluting corporations, so its inventor has been forced to go into exile. It will take years to invent the things needed to get back to where she/he came from. Carol and Poul are reunited but in forms that even they barely recognize.
Most live theater productions don't sprawl, in subject matter or physical scope, as broadly or successfully as Tomorrow Come Today. This show takes up lots of space at Undermain, with the set by designer John Arnone zigzagging diagonally from corner to corner. Sections of the floor light up in yellows, blues and reds, and the concrete pillars that make Undermain feel like a bunker are dressed in white and red wraps. A door in the back wall opens and blinding white light spills out as actor Greg Lush, butt naked (as he often is in plays and that's a good thing), leaps into another time shift. Cool effect. The audience is divided in four "zones." Try to sit in Zone 1 for the best views of the action.
Costumes by Giva Taylor feature those roomy caftans in the first act (caftans, for those who didn't see them on Elizabeth Taylor in the 1960s, are flowy ankle-length robes in soft fibers) and tighter, shinier suits in the second. The laconic robot staff glide around in red masks and white jumpsuits striped with duct tape.
Lighting by Suzanne Lavender and sound design by Bruce DuBose soften the edges of the harsher sensory elements. It all works as a cohesive piece of gorgeous performance art.
Orwell, Kubrick, Bradbury, Serling, H. G. Wells, Philip K. Dick — if you know them, you'll see their influences on Tomorrow Come Today. Go with the flow of Dahlquist's precise, peculiar language and lines such as "my house was compromised in the Mombasa relinquishment" soon begin to make perfect sense.
For actors, a play like this must be as difficult to crack as Beckett or Shakespeare. Undermain's performers speak the speeches with remarkable clarity, which helps even more than the four-page study guide.
Dahlquist's predictions for life seven centuries hence don't seem all that outlandish. Only one character doesn't ring true. That's Carol (played especially beautifully when occupying the body of actress Jenny Ledel), who is an investigative journalist. We know there'll be none of those left by 2714.