“R.U.R Rossum’s Universal Robots” was written by Karel Capek in 1920 and actually introduced the word robot into our vocabularies. The play takes place in a factory that makes artificial people, called robots. They are not like the robots in “Star Wars” or the tin humanoids in cartoons but look just like people—not mechanical but are also biologically like humans.
The plot follows Helena, the daughter of the president of the factory. Rossum created the factory on an island and argues with his nephew as to the reason for creating robots. Will this prove the existence of God or is it just a way to become rich? The play takes place in 2000 where cheap robots are now inexpensive and easily available. This all relates to our present society as we also come to grips with the ramifications of AI. How real do we want our AI to be? How human will they seem? How independent can AI become?
The play will be presented by U.S.N.A. Masqueraders starting Friday, November 10, 2023 at the Naval Academy in Annapolis at the Mahan Auditorium. The cast includes Dakota Caton, Washington Ross, Joel Thomas, Eddie Ramierz, Sofia Okorafor, Olivia Hunt, Mary Casper, Alisha Uddin, Christian Landis, Lexi Betances, Goerge Hollister and Dre Saiz. It is directed by Michael M. Wagoner. George Hollister is the Technical Director and Set Designer. Playing Helena Glory, in cross-gender casting, is Midshipman Washington Ross.
I had a chance to chat with him about his background, the play, and his future with the U.S. Navy.
Midshipman Washington Ross is a math with economics major at the Naval Academy, who enjoys the chemistry and Chinese classes he has added to his curriculum. He spends his free time running through the outdoors, gardening, and practicing martial arts. More than anything, he loves to sing and dance. When he isn’t involved in a musical or a play, he releases his creativity with karaoke. He has been involved in USNA Masqueraders productions for all four years of his undergraduate career, previously playing Banquo in the USNA production of “Macbeth.”
Can you tell us where you are from and where you were raised?
I was born and raised in Washington, DC. The name is quite the coincidence, I know.
How and why did you develop your love of the stage?
I attended some acting camps when I was a young child, but my passion for performance cemented as I grew to enjoy the music from musicals around age ten. Throughout middle school, I participated in musicals—“The Wiz” and “Into the Woods,” to name a few. Then, acting served as an escape into a fantasy. When I got to high school, I thought I’d give up the arts so I could focus on my studies. However, I couldn’t stay away. I continued with plays and musicals and started singing in a band. Now, especially as I explore plays, I appreciate the emotional development I get from acting. I get to experience someone else’s story, and understand at a deep level what motivates them and how they see the world. I credit theater with making me a more understanding and sympathetic person who is also more in tune with his own experiences than I would have been otherwise.
What area in the Navy do you want to serve?
I’m interested in serving either in the Navy’s Nuclear Surface Warfare community or in the Marine Corps. I understand they are very different communities and there are different aspects that make them both appeal to me. Ultimately, it’s an honor and a pleasure to serve my country and I’ll be happy and put in all my efforts no matter what I’m tasked with.
What role do you play in “R.U.R.” and why do you think this play is still so relevant?
I play Helena Glory. I am fascinated by how this play explores the meaning of humanity. This play is clearly relevant as we consider the impact AI will have on society. But to me, R.U.R. touches on how we think of ‘the other’ as less human because of their position in society or because of how we perceive their culture. Helena is a particularly interesting character to analyze as she represents gendered relationships and saviorism. By playing her, I’ve realized a lot more about how gender pervades in society and the behaviors people assume.
Is there a stage role you would like to perform in the future?
There are so many roles I wish I could play! Right now, I’d say George from Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George.” That musical is fun in that every cast member plays two characters. I love how that musical represents so many concepts such as ideas about art, passion, and the choices people make in finding a romantic partner—all in one work. George is a wonderful character in that he causes pain to others through his actions, but he isn’t a bad person. He has his own emotional pain and passion. That dimensionality makes him such a dynamic challenge to play. Honestly, that kind of challenge is one of the reasons why I enjoy playing Helena so much. Throughout the play, she struggles to make up her mind on how to act when it comes to the robots. While on the surface this may seem annoying to the audience, it’s representative of how a pers. It brings the fantastical to something the audience can reasonably believe as a human experience.
The U.S.N.A. Masqueraders will be performing “R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots” November 10, 11, 17 and 18, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. at the Mahan Auditorium at the United States Naval Academy, 121 Blake Rd., Annapolis, MD 21402. For more information and tickets, go online.