Review: Exit, pursued by a butterfly: Tiny Dynamite presents ‘Perfect Blue’

Tiny Dynamite presents the U.S. Premiere of “Perfect Blue” with Emma Gibson as Carys and Harry Smith (shown on screen) as Michael. Photo by Kate Raines/Plate 3 Photography

By Margaret Darby

The first impressive aspect of the production of Perfect Blue, a play about an environmental disaster in the near future, is the carefully prepared program. Speedy Motorcycle Studio’s presentation and printing are, in themselves, enough to commend it. The contents of the 16-page brochure include a mini-glossary of genetic terms and a timeline of genetic discoveries, helping the audience become familiar with the technical terms that fly by in the play. If only the audience had come in time to read it – some dragged in as late as 25 minutes into the one hour play.

The set, designed by Jorge Cousineau, is a little box with a lab table, a microscope and a backdrop. When the play begins, the backdrop bursts into life as a computer screen, emanating a series of strobing colors and patterns and making the stage seem like the ultimate sleek laboratory.

As the lights stop flashing, Carys (Emma Gibson), a slight woman in a severe bun, strides on stage with a hundred watt smile as she expounds upon the glories of her research at iGenis. Then, she slips on her lab coat as a structure resembling a set of windows descends in front of her projecting what she is examining under the microscope – the latest DNA experiment.  She waves her hand and the screen behind her reveals her husband Michael (Harry Smith), dialing in to chat with her from the UK. He, a geneticist by training, discusses her latest accomplishment with pride. But while she is wearing the white coat of laboratory glory, he has on jeans and a lumberjack shirt, ever ready to defend his beloved community orchard.

Michael really is physically in the UK.  Tiny Dynamite won a Techniculture residency with the Philadelphia Cultural Alliance to set up the technology for live-streaming the play between two continents.  The show was produced in 2016 as The Lamellar Project with the audience in the UK and the second actor in Philadelphia.  The cast and crew are prepared for the worst as streaming connections can break down at any moment. Fortunately, there was no loss of connection when I saw the show.

The actors make a gradual transition in a short hour from loving mates who admire and enjoy each other to foes in battle. Gibson starts out as a soft-spoken lab worker, increasingly capable of giving talks to promote her company and increasingly intoxicated with her power. Michael bemoans her transition from the shy and meek nerd he married to a seductive and secretive woman determined to ride the wave of eugenic euphoria. Michael’s only hope of bringing her back to the fold is by expressing his love for her.

G.S. Watson’s play uses compelling dialogue to tell the story of a couple and a world challenged by apocalyptic extinction, giving the audience an eye-opening hour’s journey into the future. The visual effects and cues were brilliantly executed, although some of the most vivid images that remain in my mind are Ms. Gibson’s descriptions of foaling mares and dolphins which were not accompanied by any visuals.  In short, the technology served as an intriguing addition to the play, but it is the excellent acting by both Ms. Gibson and Mr. Smith that made it exciting

If You Go: Christ Church Neighborhood House is located at 20 N. American Street. Tickets cost $20 for General Admission and $15 for students and seniors. Tickets and more information are available online at www.tinydynamite.org. The ticket site is: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2930528. All performances are scheduled at 3 p.m. or 6:30 p.m. to accommodate the time difference in the United Kingdom.