“R.U.R.” was written by the Czech writer, Karl Čapek, in 1920 when the world was still reeling from World War I and the Russian Revolution. Large companies aided by assembly lines, electricity, and other modern technology were gaining great power. The masses were revolting or forming unions. Women were gaining suffrage in many countries.
…the entire cast does a fine job…the artful direction of Michael M. Wagoner…both historical and topical.
Čapek’s work, translated by Claudia Novack, is both a commentary of his age but also a futuristic look at the changes their world might expect. Indeed, many of his points—greedy oligarchs, infantilizing women, and the subjugation and dehumanization the working class—were problems for not just that era, but would plague societies a hundred years into the future. Many of these issues still eat at our very foundations.
The plot itself begins with Helena (Washington Ross), the daughter of an industrialist, arriving at the island where its sole industry is making robots. The first Mr. Rossum tried to create organic matter but his nephew, an engineer, was more practical and created machines that looked like people but behaved like machines. Occasionally, as we hear from the General Manager, Domin (Dakota Caton), that some of the robots malfunction and were destroyed. Helena sees the robots in a more humane way. She is concerned for their welfare and wants them to be treated better.
There are no human women on the island so Domin views Helena as wife potential. For that matter, the other men on the island also become smitten with her. Helena agrees to marry Domin and stay on the island, but she still wants the robots to have souls. The plot jumps ten years from Act I to Act II. I don’t want to spoil the surprises in this play, but as you can guess, the lack of vision leads to mayhem—not only on the island, but worldwide.
The production is presented by The U. S. Naval Academy’s Masqueraders under the artful direction of Michael M. Wagoner. This group has been in existence since the 1840s. In the days before coeducation at the Academy, men often played women’s roles. In that tradition but also shaking it up a bit, the main character, Helena, is played by a male actor while many of the male roles are played by women. Midshipman Ross cuts a fine figure as Helena and the entire cast does a fine job.
As Domin, Caton has huge speeches. Early in Act I, he delivers pages of dialogue explaining the history of the factory and how robots are going to help in his vision to solve the problems of mankind such as poverty, war, and hunger. Olivia Hunt gives a fine performance as Alquist, a manager at the factory, who tries to save mankind.
Many of the cast play multiple roles including Alisha Uddin (Sulla/Nana/Robot), Joel Thomas (Dr. Gall/Damon), Eduardo Ramirez (Hallemaier/Robot Primus), Sofia Okorafor (Fabry/Robot Helena), and Mary Casper (Busman/Radius). All give remarkable supporting performances. Rounding out the cast are Christian Landis as Marius and Lexi Betances, Goerge Hollister and Andre Saiz as robots.
George Hollister is also the technical director and created the stark set design which highlighted the sterile atmosphere of the factory. The other creatives include Lighting Designer Jenna Jeletic, Sound Designer Enzo Constanza and Carson Costanza wrote the original music.
“R.U.R” is both historical and topical. It allows you to understand the past and think really hard about our future on planet earth.
Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.
Advisory: Recommended for mature audiences due graphic violence.
“R.U.R.” runs November 17 and 18, 2023 at 7:30 pm presented by the USNA Masqueraders at the Mahan Auditorium of the U. S. Naval Academy, 121 Blake Rd, Annapolis, MD 21402. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online. Read Susan Brall’s ‘A Quick 5’ interview with Midshipman Ross.