Stop. Reset. Review - Embrace the Future to Thrive and Survive?

Open your eyes and jump.  Stop.  Reset.  There are many lines from the new play stop. reset. by Regina Taylor that I wanted to write down and think about.  Playwright and director Taylor and the ensemble at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago deliver a thought-provoking and frank view of how technology changes us.  How it can bring us together and pull us apart.  And if we don’t embrace the changes, we may be literally thrown out in the cold.

Playwright and director Regina Taylor

Edgar Sanchez (J), Tim Decker (Tim), Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames), Lisa Tejero (Deb) and Jacqueline Williams (Jan) in stop. reset.

 

stop. reset. is being presented in the Owens Theatre at the Goodman Theatre, a thrust stage that draws us into the conflict of heart and mind that occurs on a cold, snowy Chicago day at the Alexander Ames Chicago Black Book Publisher office.  As electronic publishing soars, the public’s desire for paper books wanes, and the Ames’s company is suffering.  He mulls over the need to let one of his small staff go and decides to meet with each of them about their work and thoughts for the future of the business.  Meanwhile, the nineteen-year-old janitor J, seemingly barely literate but far surpassing the other employees with his social media brilliance, schools Ames on what the future might be, if only the older man opens his eyes to possibilities.

Eric Lynch (Chris), Jacqueline Williams (Jan), Tim Decker (Tim) and Lisa Tejero (Deb) in stop. reset.

Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Edgar Sanchez (J) in stop. reset.

 

If one has ever worked in an office or struggled in the corporate jungle, he or she will identify with one or more of the co-workers as they navigate the fear that comes with the potential of losing one’s livelihood.  Fear breeds the compulsion to save oneself, and soon the inflation of skills and backstabbing begins as each person explains to Alexander why he or she should be retained.   Employee Jan sums it up perfectly: “I’m walking through this shit trying to save my job.”  Only J remains true to his message, and Alexander finds himself enthralled with the young man’s multi-media vision. 

Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames), Eric Lynch (Chris) and Jacqueline Williams (Jan) in stop. reset.

Tim Decker (Tim) in stop. reset.

 

 

I admit I got a little lost toward the end.   Was J merely a vision of Alexander’s younger self?  Or is he a prophet, telling of a future that is exciting, frightening and inevitable?    Stop.  Reset.  tries to tell us to keep both the old and new world in check.  We might not use an abacus to balance our checkbooks anymore (does anyone really balance their checkbooks anyway?), but we need to acknowledge that which has brought us to a place  where we use our “Smart Ass Phones”  for virtually everything.  But we are people, not machines, and our ability to communicate and revel in our diversity can still win the day.

Edgar Sanchez (J) in stop. reset.

 

Eugene Lee inhabits the mind and body of Alexander Ames.  He is multi-layered, mourning the violent loss of his son and the end of his marriage along with the potential end of his business.  His physical and psychological pain were evident in his walk and his loss of patience with his employees.  J is played by Edgar Miguel Sanchez.  Edgar has a fluid grace to his movements and is eloquent as he shares his nebulous moral choices.  The interplay between J and Alexander are the hallmark of this production. 

 

The actors portraying the employee are always edgy and funny at times.  Tim Decker as Tim shows us how people believe they embrace diversity while taking stereotypic digs at their work buddies.  Chris is played by Eric Lynch.  Like Alexander, he is African-American and wonders if he should be given preferential treatment because of his closeness with his boss.  Lisa Tejero plays Deb, an Asian woman who is swept up in her career, having missed other life moments along the way.  And finally, Jacqueline Williams plays Jan, an older woman who still has much to give in a world that values youth. 

 

Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Lisa Tejero (Deb) in stop. reset.

 

Eric Lynch (Chris) and Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) in stop. reset.

 

 

The stage is unique (set design by Riccardo Hernandez).  The highest part of the stage features Alexander’s old wooden desk with a huge bookcase behind him, that doubles as a multi-media device and sometimes showes the ghosts of Alexander’s past in projected video.  Very effective.  There are television screens doubling as windows to the office thatsscenes from history gone by, even as J tells us that “history is overrated.”  The space where the employees work is modern and stark, in contrast to the work done at this publisher for the outdated mode of information delivery: books.   

Stop. Reset. set at the Goodman Theatre

 

The show runs less than two hours, but with no intermission, which I think enhances the effect that we are spying on a slice of time.  The ability to virtually touch the actors from the seats also brings us into that troubled office. 

 

Taylor’s dialogue and discussion is multi-layered and multi-themed.   Her work is a treasure for the Goodman and Chicago.  We need to keep the discussion going about makes us different and what we share.  Our personal histories are not overrated – they are what bring us together in unique circumstances to create and aspire to something great and to share with the world around us.  And not just in 140 characters or less.

 

stop. reset. is playing in the Owens Theatre stage at the Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street , Chicago, IL, now through June 21, 2015.  The phone number is 312.443.3800. Tickets and other information can be found here.

Photos by Liz Lauren.

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