2/2/2020        MAYBE HAPPY ENDING                                  Alliance Theatre



It is Seoul, Korea.  Oliver never leaves his apartment, relying on a delivery man, his jazz vinyl, his houseplant roommate (HwaBoon), and the anticipation of a letter from his best friend.  Claire lives across the hall and has done so for over twelve years.  Oliver and Claire are about to meet and embark on that most human of adventures: friendship and, (maybe) love.


Oliver and Claire are robots and emotions are not part of their programming code. They are also AI’s, and, as we have learned through countless Terminator sequels, a hallmark of AI’s is the ability to learn, to, in effect, “write their own code.”


Maybe Happy Ending is an original, a musical from Korea that eschews K-Pop for mid-twentieth century jazz.  It is a musical about love in which the protagonists are machines (ish).  It is a philosophical statement about opposites:  love and loss, technology and nature, innovation and obsolescence, venturing out from safe havens and returning to the safety of those havens, experiencing emotions with an “out” to reboot to a moment that erases any residual pain.


It is like nothing you have ever seen and is one of the most visually stunning yet emotionally delicate experiences you’re likely to have in a theatre.

Oliver and Claire “meet cute”:  her battery is dying, and she needs a recharge.  Oliver is a HelperBot3 and she is the upgraded HelperBot5, the 5’s having notoriously shabby and shorter-lived batteries {Insert Apple joke here about badly-designed upgrades}.  On the other hand, the 5’s also have a higher capacity for improvisation, a feature Oliver longs for, a feature of his beloved jazz that just seems out of his reach.


Did I mention that their apartment building is really a repository for obsolete and discarded HelperBots to live out their remaining years?  Yes, in a hundred years, there will be hospices for our beloved tech!


For reasons I’ll leave you to discover, Oliver and Claire start on a journey together, in car, on ship, on foot.  They experience delight and joy and sorrow, new experiences, improvisations on the theme of their basic coding.  And they analyze those experiences to reduce them to basic bits of data, to understand them, to eventually surrender to them’


And they eventually come to an understanding of love and emotion that seems to be growing more alien to us humans, especially as we let technology take over more and more of our decisions, our plans, our lives.


There is so much to praise about this show.   Let me start with the high-tech physical aspects, particularly the rapid computer-driven scene shifts highlighted by a turntable and colored quadrilaterals that enclose the actors, move with them, display memories for them, and “swallow them” into oblivion at very specific moments.  Walls and furnishings appear and vanish as if controlled by an illusionist.  Scenic Designer Dane Laffey, Projections Designer Sven Ortel, Lighting Designer Travis Hagenbuch, and Sound Designer Peter Hylenski form one of those rare “Tech Ensembles” whose work bleeds across functionality, making the whole design look as if it were sourced by one mind, one program.


Let me continue with the music, songs in a distinctively Big Band era vein, that move the plot and are tuneful and clever, embellishing character, mood, and story,  As per normal, the program does not include a song list, so I am unable to cite any specific songs, but there is a You Tube video of “My Favorite Love Story” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unu8PYjQ2b0 featuring Kenny Tran and Cathy Ang from the Alliance production.


Speaking of Ms. Ang and Mr. Tran, they have to carry practically the entire musical on their very talented shoulders.  Sure a few other actors flit in and out like fireflies on a moonless night – Dez Duron as a (fictional) velvet-voiced Big Band crooner, John D. Haggerty in at least six different roles, and Diana Huey and Daniel J. Edwards in a few ensemble moments;  but  Oliver and Claire on stage from beginning to end – this is their world and the ensemble’s roles are, in effect, supporting subroutines.


Director Michael Arden and Music Director Deborah Abramson keep the production unified, engaging, and, ultimately, compelling.


So, in a world where we seem to be trading in out humanity for a constant stream of social media, information, and disinformation, we start to define ourselves through “Like Counts” and “Blog Hits,” it is a bit refreshing to see a pair of left-behind HelpBots discover what else we are intent on leaving behind, embracing the joys and pains that come with love, then (maybe) choosing to repeat.


So, is it a Happy Ending?  Maybe.  It all depends on if Oliver and Claire really execute their final plan.  But, part of being in love, is learning to lie to each other.  So, maybe the ending is happy.  Part of being human is just not knowing what the ending will be, or even recognizing it when it is upon us.


     --  Brad Rudy  (BKRudy@aol.com     @bk_rudy    #AllianceTheatre  #MaybeHappingEnding)

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