What do you call a play that starts with a 35-minute university lecture on “From Pen To Pixel: A History Of Typography,” turns in an instant into an edge-of-your-seat thriller, and finally becomes something quite lyrical which leaves you breathless?

You call it brilliant.

You call it Futura, an extraordinary new play by Jordan Harrison, now at Theatre @ Boston Court getting the first of three joint World Premieres, directed with dramatic flair by the ever brilliant Jessica Kubzansky.

Bonita Friedericy is Dr. Lorraine Wexler, whose state-of-the-art remote control glove tells us that this professor’s PowerPoint presentation is being given some time into the future, at a time when pencil, pen, and paper have gone the way of the dinosaur, making the smudge a thing of the past.

Part of the brilliance of Harrison’s writing (and Kubzansky’s direction) is just how gripping the professor’s lecture is, in addition to being fascinating and informative. Dr. Wexler describes how truly revolutionary Gutenberg’s mechanical moveable type was in making it possible for the first time for the written word to survive both fire and flood. She discusses the revolutionary font called Baskerville, so perfect for newsprint that it survived even the French Revolution, and the titular Futura, a typeface which outlived the Nazis, who wished to destroy this enemy of their favored Tannenberg typeface. The professor goes on to bemoan the fact that entire segments of the human brain have now gone dormant in a world where people no longer know how to write with pen and paper.

All this is fine and dandy, and as I’ve said, downright engrossing, especially as delivered by Friedericy with equal parts dry humor and irony, and with a suspenseful underscoring by sound designer extraordinaire John Zalewski—but it is still, after all, merely a lecture on typography.

Then come hints of something darker as Professor Wexler becomes increasingly agitated and emotional. Citizens murdered for opposing “The Great Collection” (shades of Fahrenheit 451), a society with only a single book and no longer billions, a “Company” that knows everything about everyone, and small groups of rebels in search of “The Zero Drive,” which the professor refers to as “the only hope.”

And then the lights go out.

To find out what happens next, and to learn just what characters Futura’s remain three cast members play, you must visit Theatre @ Boston Court. You really must.

Friedericy gets what is surely one of the most challenging and rewarding roles of her career, and if she stumbled a bit during the early minutes of what turned out to be more than half an hour of nonstop lecturing (without the aid of notes), this is entirely understandable so early in Futura’s run. In the second and third scene, which has Friedericy interacting with her co-players, her performance truly ignites. It is a bravura role well on the way to becoming a truly bravura performance.

As Gash, Edward Tournier continues to prove himself one of our most gifted young actors, and though his current role casts him considerably less against type than the boorish teen whose body and soul possessed him in Supernova, it gives him the opportunity to blend vulnerability and valor in yet another memorable piece of work. The wonderful Zarah Mahler is one part Lara Croft and one part Ripley as a chick so rough and tough, it takes courage and more than a bit of chutzpah to tangle with her. Bob McCracken completes the cast ably in the role of Edward, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether his character is hero or villain.

Besides Zalewski’s masterful sound design and the original music he has composed in order to up the tension and suspense, there’s Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting design creating three completely different moods, costume designer Leah Piehl’s intriguing but not outrageous imagining of fashions not too far in the future, and Shannon Dedman’s intricate and detailed properties design. Scenic designer Myoung Hee Cho has created three vastly different sets, which to describe would reveal far too much of Futura’s plot. Arguably the biggest design star of the first half hour or so of Futura is Hana Souyeon Kim’s magical projection design which accompanies Professor Wexler’s lecture. Not to be forgotten is Caleb Terray’s very realistic fight choreography. (Yes, there’s a doozy of a fight in Futura.) Kevin Shewey is assistant director and Maggie Goddard is production stage manager.

2010 has marked an exciting return to Boston Court for this reviewer, beginning with Oedipus El Rey, followed by The Twentieth Century Way and The Good Book Of Pedantry And Wonder, all three productions big winners in StageSceneLA’s recent Best Of 2009-2010 awards. Like its predecessors, Futura is superbly staged cutting-edge theater that manages to be entertaining, intellectually stimulating, and highly accessible. Theatre @ Boston Court ends the year with yet another winner.

Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena.
–Steven Stanley
October 10, 2010
Photos: Ed Krieger, Boston Court

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