Build - Geeks at the Geffen!

I have never been one to play video games, not since Atari's Pong, which came along in the early days of the Internet. I have an addictive personality, and I knew that if I started playing the many exciting video games that were coming online, I would be hooked, and the limited number of hours in the day would be severely limited even further. So no shooting at aliens, animals or villains for me -- even though the video game industry has now become a multi-billion dollar industry, far overshadowing the movie industry in volume and appeal. I have deliberately stayed away from these games. And then I went to the Geffen Playhouse (10886 Le Conte Avenue, Westwood (310)208-5454) and realized that I was absolutely right to do so.

At the smaller, delightful Audrey Skirball Kenis Theatre at the Geffen Playhouse, I saw the new show, Build, by Michael Golamco, and enjoyed it in a limited way. Frankly, this is a show for geeks, friends and families of geeks, and those who wish to become geeks. I define geek as a nerd who plays video games, but probably that is a limited view. The astute theater critic of the L.A. Times, Charles McNulty, reviewed it earlier and said, "Protagonists in bathrobes are not your friends." The paper's headline was, "Will this guy's melancholia ever lift?" The answer to that is not revealed until the end.

Thomas Sadoski and Peter Katona share a computer screen and their problems.

You see, the play opens up in a scruffy bachelor's apartment in Palo Alto (ed. note: much like mine, although I don't have empty pizza boxes and soda cans strewn around. But he does have six computer screens and I only have one) and we meet a scruffy bachelor named Kip (Thomas Sadoski) in a bathrobe, with a crick in his neck and a bottle of pills which he periodically pops. I sat up straighter when I recognized him as the young TV journalist in Aaron Sorkin's wonderful HBO drama, The Newsroom.

McNulty complains in his review that the lead is depressing all through the play, which runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. (Another note: if you leave the theater for the restroom, they won't let you back in. I had to get special permission from the stage manager or you wouldn't be reading this review. And there is a spectacular, very tall and beautiful usherette who towered over me. When I asked her how she liked being so tall, she smiled and said, "I love it." I think that was the highlight of my evening.)

The geek in the play is a genius game developer who has not left his apartment for a year while developing a new game for the big company, which bought his previous game for millions. The play's action begins when his childhood buddy, Will (Peter Katona) arrives to try and hurry along the game development. Peter is a spit-and-polish Ferrari-driving engineer who looks like a spiffy CAA agent (not as cool as Bryan Lourd though) and is the nice guy in the equation. The action gets kind of interesting and spooky when we discover that Kip has created an A.I. woman robot (that's artificial intelligence) who shows up as a hologram (with pings) and is played beautifully by the beautiful Laura Heisler. It turns out she has been created as a duplicate of Kip's late wife, who died in an auto accident. His wife, Allison, pops up on the computer from time to time to read email messages describing what its like to be married to a mad scientist. One of the most interesting lines in the play, and key to the sad marital relationship, is when the AI girl plaintifully asks Kip: "Did you even know that your wife liked green tea?" That pretty much sets up the entire play. But I won't reveal the ending, when we finally see Kip out of his bathrobe (he still looks scruffy.)

Thomas and Laura (she's the A.I. robot) share a tender moment.

The very talented Will Frears directs this work, which is billed as being the world premiere and won the Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. Michael Golamco has great talent and I look forward to his next work. I was bemused by the program note saying that he lives so close to this theater that he can walk to work. Wish I could say the same. Drove home from Westwood after stopping at In-n-Out Burger for a double-double and mulling over the interesting, strange and complex play I had just seen. Turned on my computer and began writing this review... wishing I could make that A.I. girl appear in my living room. As I said, if you have a geek or nerd in your life, then this play Build is well worth seeing.

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