Posted in Productions

A New World War

A New World War

written by Rita Valencia, directed by Guy Zimmerman, Stephanie Feury Studio Theater, April 14 through May 12, 2007.

A New World War was inspired by the current events following the inception of the “war on terror” after the 9/11 attacks. That era began in a perfect storm of fear, institutionalized ignorance (corporate news), right wing extremism, millenialism and media consolidation, along with an extraordinarily sophisticated marketing system which used the idea of war as a device to further the ends of a cadre of neo-conservatives and powerful corporate interests. The toll of greivously injured and poisoned remains hidden. The confluence of effective political and social propaganda, alongside the marketing of consumer products (promising perfect satisfaction) and fear (threatening disaster) simultaneously, strikes me as both comic and horrific, and that is the source of the dark humor in a New World War.

I drew from pop culture sources, such as Hal from 2001:A Space Odyssey, The Prisoner television series, and Hindi movies about radicalized youth, overlaid upon romantic era sources such as E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Sandman” and Janacek’s opera, “Katya Kabanova”. This play follows in a Brechtian tradition of socially engaged theater, although the language often uses Dada techniques (cut-up of found/appropriated text and intentional non sequitur).

—Rita Valencia, 2007

Featuring Andy Hopper, Jack Littman, Niamh McCormally and Gray Palmer
Set `Deisgn by Jeffrey Atherton
Sound Design by John Zalewski

Review: ‘A New World War’

The future. An unspecified time and place. The sounds of a battle rage outside.

We’re introduced to the lovely Antar (Niamh McCormally) and her Cyborg husband, the fresh-faced Gauloise (Jack Littman), as they sit blankly in a sparsely furnished living room.
Gauloise, as we learn, has been purchased by Antar to be her own customized life-companion. A robot programmed to love her, Gauloise interprets Antar as the perfect “need-machine” of which only he is equipped to satisfy.

The conflict begins as Antar expresses her dissatisfaction with Gauloise and a desire to cancel her contract. Naturally, this does not sit nicely with either Gauloise or the company from which he came, represented by his technician, “mother-in-law” (Gray Palmer).

The drama takes a turn with the appearance of the gritty, bearded Charly (Andy Hopper), an insurgent fighting in the rebellion outside. His ultimate aim is unclear, but in the immediate, he’s got his lusty eyes on Antar.

Thus we have the premise for a brilliant new work from veteran playwright Rita Valencia. Produced by the famed avant garde theater company Padua Playwrights, “A New World War” manages the all-too-extraordinary feat of being both blissful entertainment and unnerving social commentary.
Valencia’s script takes us seamlessly into this bizarre world with an almost malicious sense of humor. As we enjoy a dazzling array of literary gems, we are simultaneously belly-punched by the poignancy of her insight into the psychology of modern society. Valencia poses serious and unsettling questions about human nature, our relentless cravings and the notion that fulfillment may be achieved at last if only we can get our hands on the right “package.”

The script is served well by a remarkable cast of performers. McCormally, as our would-be heroine, Antar, is absolutely captivating by virtue of her natural beauty and impeccable timing. She plays the part with the same spine chilling ferocity with which she has astonished theater audiences for years.
Littman, as her robotic husband, is perfectly cast, both by sight and talent. His unblemished countenance and the mechanical precision with which he delivers his lines complement his role as a state-of-the-art plaything.

Hopper, as the grimy, cum-struck revolutionary, Charly is a sheer joy to behold. The room veritably stinks with the raw masculinity of a young Brando as he graces the stage.
Palmer is masterful in his role of “mother-in-law,” exuding the sterile cruelty of a fascist with the sudden, hair-raising explosions of a raving psychopath. In a walk-on role, Devon Carson, a true find, if ever there was one, is pure titillation in the role of “Gail.”
The conscientious eye of director Guy Zimmerman rounds out the remarkable script, a stellar cast and the fine set design and lighting.

“A New World War” takes us to a place utterly unexpected and yet, somehow, eerily familiar. It’s a vision of a possible future so unapologetically pessimistic you can’t help but laugh.

Aron Dov Rudnick, Campus Circle

Review: ‘A New World War’: Cyborg Spouse and a Marital Rift
Angry sci-fi comedy. Also reviewed: “The Bay at Nice,” “Who Killed Bob Marley?” and more.
April 20, 2007

All too recognizable elements of present-day conflicts and social dysfunction are projected onto a post-Orwellian future in “A New World War,” an angry sci-fi comedy by Rita Valencia presented by Padua Playwrights.

With incisive wit, Valencia envisions a totalitarian rule maintained by implanted “identity chips” and “fidelity warrants” in which a restless housewife named Antar (Niamh McCormally) violates her contractual obligations to Gauloise (Jack Littman), the cyborg spouse custom-built to meet her subconscious needs.

The irony, of course, is that über-consumer Antar (who achieved fleeting fame as the author of “How to Throw an Awesome Party”) is every bit as programmed and mechanical in her thinking as any cyborg. It’s only after she meets Charly (Andy Hopper), a rugged soldier in the underground resistance, that conflicted loyalties (“He’s the enemy — and he’s hot”) drive Antar to question authority.

In a nicely sinister turn, Gray Palmer’s marriage counselor/cyborg repairman, named “Mother-in-Law,” tries to lure Antar back to the fold with banal pronouncements (“The sooner the terrorists are put down, the sooner you can go shopping”). Evidently a student of modern history, he believes that when truth threatens the reality built on lies we’ve told ourselves, his mission is to ensure that truth will never be revealed.

Rejected by Antar as a machine incapable of change, Gauloise responds with a well-constructed soliloquy filled with that quintessential human quality, self-loathing.

Don’t expect many shades of gray, however. Guy Zimmerman’s energetic staging tightly adheres to the intended political agitprop masquerading as a relationship story (a distinction explicitly stated at one point). When you’re either a placid robot or a rabid insurgent, there’s little breathing room for nuance.

Philip Brandes, LA Times

Review: ‘A New World War’

You may ask what’s the point of telling yet another futuristic story about the modern military-corporate assault on once-cherished freedoms. As though George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut didn’t get it quite right. Rita Valencia’s new play doesn’t chart new territory, but it does finesse our worst nightmares for the future by positing the question of what, precisely, it means to be human. Somewhere in 2030 America, a young woman named Antar (Niamh McCormally) has signed a contract for a “personal companion” — i.e. a callow robot (Jack Littman) working super hard to be human — programmed for just the right amount of arguments, abuse and sex talk to match the personality of his female owner. She was smitten when they first met, but now she’s not so sure. And the more she doubts, the more insecure and abusive (human) he becomes. Furthermore, the war on terror still hasn’t been won (big surprise), and Antar finds herself attracted to an insurrectionist (Andy Hopper). Turns out her lifetime contract — entered into with a government agent named Mother-in-Law (Gray Palmer) — for the “cyborg” is like having a credit card where the bank can change the terms at will, but you can’t. Mother-in-Law is sort of in control, and Palmer’s performance reveals a certain high blood pressure born of exasperation with his prickly client. All of which adds a healthy dose of levity, under Guy Zimmerman’s nicely droll direction. Valencia’s departure from the sci-fi dystopias of yore comes from the sliver of incompetence that runs through just about everybody. It may not be enough to prevent them from breaking free spirits, but it’s our only hope. And Valencia’s play is onto it.

Steven Leigh Morris, LA Weekly

The Future Bites its Own Tail
A theater parable about the exasperating me culture (a.k.a. ego)

The play A New World War, playing at the Stephanie Feury Studio Theater through May 12, is science fiction that turns on itself. It is also theater, of the better sort, in which the future is a mirror that reflects, slightly distorted, the whims and the foolishness of the current world.
This play by Rita Valencia, presented by Padua Playwrights, links its sarcastic fangs on the irritating, so typically American me culture, in other words, “I’m the only purpose for the World to exist” or also “I have the right to get everything I want.” There is no way to stop this from expanding into a critique of our current society and the failure of human communication.

Antar is the name of the young protagonist. She dedicates her life to shopping and enjoying her spouse, Gauloise. Although lately, not so much.

Gauloise has become a bit arrogant and critical of his… mistress? The fact is that the spouse is an android, a cybernetic creation, with smooth skin, perfect hair and profile, especially created to “love” his mistress (all, and I mean everything included.) Although, as I said before, not so much lately. It seems that the perfect leading man has not been performing up to the required level. And buying him cost poor Antar plenty. For some reason the young (and rich) woman, tired of not finding the right man to share her love of shopping, decided to give up on her search, and bought the latest android model as a spouse.

This type of android is especially designed to complement in a precise manner the character of his would be wife. But this time, something happened, and the fitting didn’t work out. An emotional disaster for her, since it was a case of impulse shopping; the moment she saw him she wanted to take him home, signing a “for life” contract without reading it. The outcome: a legal and financial disaster.
When Motherinlaw, the company technician, comes to investigate, she realizes that the maintenance contract has expired. Antar wants an exchange, but it won’t be easy for her to get the company to comply. Whenever the product becomes defective, it is always the customer’s fault.

The fact that a “New World War” has begun does not make things easy for Antar. “Why do we have to fight, when we have everything we need” she asks.

She is going to find out quite soon, when on one of her outings she meets a “terrorist”(a real man in this world of androids) and soon they start a relationship that seems to go nowhere.
But this is only the beginning. From then on the pressure on poor Antar from the corporation escalates with aggressive tactics that increasingly resemble those of an occupying army, rather that those of a gentle, old-fashioned marketing campaign.

Posmodernism is an umbrella that can cover much territory, but less and less with any originality, or meaningful and well thought out content.

This production, on the contrary, represents the best example of this style that we have seen on the stage for a long time, with good, consistent choices, from the script to the staging, acting, and even the lighting design and costumes.

What seem at first to be facile ideas, because of the sharp sense of humor, keep gaining a deeper and deeper meaning until they achieve a very real sense of urgency.

The actress Niamh McCormally creates a very convincing Antar, a spoiled young woman, who, in spite of the lack of sensibility the character is supposed to have, grows into total anguish, through subtle but carefully marked changes. The cold and distant Gauloise finds a perfect embodiment in Jack Littman, and the excellent Gray Palmer sneaks through the constant duplicities of her character, Motherin-law. Andy Hopper is quite impressive in the most “real” and “human” character, which doesn’t mean that he is better than the rest of the cast. Devon Carson, in a brief role, is another example of the ability the director Guy Zimmerman shows in being able to maintain a consistent style that also allows our involvement and understanding of the play.

What is most interesting is discovering a new theater talent. Rita Valencia shows commitment, humor, a concern for social issues and their consequences, a creative mind capable of analysis, and an innate originality and theatrical skill.

—Hugo Quintana, La Opinion (translated from Spanish)

A New World At War

Nothing makes a critic happier when he or she sees fresh, innovative work from a playwright who gets how invaluable it is to spruce up contemporary stories with a fresh eye. 

Rita Valencia is a true working writer. Her stuff is found in print, online, on the stage and everywhere else where there is an enraptured audience. Her latest work is a combination of sci-fi and the new media blitz phrase ‘war on terror’. 

I had the pleasure in speaking with actor Gray Palmer after the show. Now, he said that A New World War is not sci-fi but contains components of the genre. Okay, I can buy that. After the walk home I thought about it some more. There are strong similarities. For one the play is set 25 years in the future. Sci-fi element number one. Not a long time, but a hell far away from today.

Gauloise (Jack Littman) is the cocky but good-looking cyborg, similar to Sean Young’s role in the 1982 thriller Blade Runner. Gauloise is the personal lifetime companion to Antar (Niamh McCormally) a one-hit writer who is already tired of her mate. Gauloise and Antar do not have the love jones for each other the way Harrison Ford and Young did in the movie. Antar is caught up in the revolution right outside her window. Gauloise tries to protect her but she is finding the outside world more intriguing.

Enter Charly. An ill-mannered, disheveled looking soldier who has seen combat at its unspeakable worse. His other talent is bringing out the sexual awakening in Antar by using his rough demeanor. Now, she is in love and has newfound purpose. The only obstacle is that damn ‘husband’ of hers who won’t go away. “ I’ve changed,” she repeats to Gauloise and Mother-in Law (Gray Palmer) whose job is to figure out what is going on and smooth out the couple’s problems. 

Unfortunately, Antar in her Patty Hearst mode and 80s Cyndi Lauper attire, does not want the calm idyllic life with Gauloise. Charly (Andy Hopper) provides the excitement she now feels is lacking. It takes mother-in-law’s entire strength knock some sense into this fickle young woman’s head. A good slap might have helped since she obviously was not hearing what mother-in-law said. Littman and McCormally are the perfect couple in reverse. He wants to stay committed and she wants to leave. Littman plays Gauloise in a very charming, boy band-ish annoying way. He knows it all, he is smarter than most humans and has a tremendous satiable appetite for Antar. Doesn’t seem like a problem in my eyes. Palmer is wonderful as the clean up man. As mother-in-law, he is playful, stern with a wicked sense of humor that drives Antar crazy while making the audience enjoying watching her twist in the wind.

Valencia said she drew form various pop culture resources in making her dark humorous story convincing. The 9/11 attacks, news programs not showing the gruesome images of the bodies killed in war but encouraged people to buy, buy, buy at the nearest mall. Gauloise prevents Antar from seeing the death toll on the streets. Her constant shopping is the way she deals to ease her pain and fright. Antar is kept locked up in her fancy apartment the way the inmates in the Fox television drama Prison Break, Valencia latched on to the show’s premise, and tries to escape. Gauloise is a huge reminder of that son-of-bitch Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey who prevents Antar from doing anything, for her own good of course. Valencia blends science fiction with the real world and delivers a realistic and convincing portrayal peek of what the world could look like in 2032. Frightening to think about but too compelling to ignore.

—Mary E. Monotoro, SoCal.com