RobotWars1 (2)

After a performance of the aggressively original Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, now playing at the New Ohio Theatre through 1/21, a couple, whom had not seen the show–and who were sitting next to me on the One train–began talking about robotics at Texas A&M University.  It was a continuance of strange and dreamlike synchronicities found in and around this play from the Mad Ones, “a New York City-based theater company that devises new work through a combination of automatic writing, in-depth dramaturgical research, and structured improvisation.”  Their press agent, David Gibbs, e-mailing before the performance, warned that there was a heating problem at the bunkerlike theater on Christopher Street (now presumably fixed) in a show that takes place in a bunkerlike radio theater (which probably would have heating and power problems). The characters themselves are caught relating a story of nuclear annihilation in Iowa while confronting the continuance of their own invasion and environmental disasters in Irkutsk, Siberia. The writers, Marc Bovino & Joe Curnutte (the work is directed by Lila Neugebauer; co-creators Stephanie Wright Thompson and Michael Dalto also star), are the actors playing the roles, adding to the Pirandellian blurring of illusion and reality (if you feel like you’ve heard about the work earlier, it played at The Brick, in Brooklyn, last spring). Why this play–and these seemingly nonsensical particularities–is important is because we are not watching conformist artists trying to write a hit (although, hopefully, it will become one). Instead, we are seeing something different, maybe even an inching of the Drama forward (if you look at the work as an extension of Strindberg’s chamber plays).

The seminal playwright told us, in his introduction to A Dream Play, that he “attempted to imitate the inconsequent yet transparently logical shape of a dream.”  He wrote, “Everything can happen, everything is possible and probable.  Time and place do not exist; on an insignificant basis of reality the imagination spins, weaving new patterns; a mixture of memories, experiences, free fancies, incongruities, and improvisations.  The characters split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, disperse, assemble.  But one consciousness rules over them all, that of the dreamer; for him there are no secrets, no illogicalities, no scruples, no laws.  He neither acquits nor condemns, but merely relates. . . .”  How the creators of Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War have gone further is that in Strindberg we understand that we are watching an artistic rendering of a dream (there is a feeling of artificial heightening from flowering castles to talking mummies to goddesses coming down from heaven). What this team does, which neither Strindberg nor all those who tried to imitate him–directly or indirectly–did, is to create the plausibility of a dream. Bovino, Curnutte, and Neugebauer keep the proceedings decidedly earth-bound, untidy, and low tech—they incorporate the unmeaningfulness, the trash of dreams (from trivia to the news to old songs). It may take until you are riding home to realize that you were even in a dream–or could be living in one in the present moment.  

Dress warmly.

Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War: Recommended.

© 2012 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Strindberg translation © by Michael Meyer.

Photo:  (L-R): Stephanie Wright Thompson as Anastasia Volinski and Joe Curnutte as The Host in Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War. Credit: Ian Saville.


The New Ohio Theatre proudly presents the Manhattan Premiere of the critically acclaimed Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War, produced by The Mad Ones, conceived by Marc Bovino, Joe Curnutte, Lila Neugebauer and created with the ensemble, written by Marc Bovino and Joe Curnutte, and directed by Lila Neugebauer. Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War runs from January 5 – 21, 2012 in a limited engagement at the New Ohio Theatre, located at 154 Christopher Street, between Greenwich and Washington Streets in New York City.

Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War plays Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8pm, along with two special APAP Happy Hour performances on Sunday, January 8 at 5pm and Monday, January 9 at 5pm. Industry and general public are welcome to the Culture & Cocktails APAP shows – enjoy a libation, see the show and meet the artists. A vintage dance party follows the Saturday, January 14th and Saturday, January 21st performances. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students/seniors and can be purchased online at or by calling 212-868-4444. The running time is 75 minutes. For more information visit

In an alternate global history, the cold war was decided not by détente, not by nuclear holocaust, but by massive robot invasion. Among the survivors, a team of Russian radio hosts, warmed to a lost culture of 1950s Americana, broadcast a story of brothers’ love drawn straight from the American heartland. Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War combines 1950s radio drama, vintage country music, and Soviet science in a sci-fi surrealist War of the Worlds meets A Prairie Home Companion examination of American nostalgia.

The Village Voice called the 2010 premiere of Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War “pleasantly eccentric and unexpectedly poignant…the acting is dynamic” and TimeOut NY gave it 4 out of 5 stars and raved “spin your theatergoing dial to the winning, atmospheric Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War…The show may feel as fragile as a vacuum tube, but it’s actually unbreakably deft—and delightful to its minutest detail…rest assured, you are safe in the hands of some confident new theatrical talents.” Flavorpill deemed the show “suspenseful and impeccably performed” and sang its praises, calling it “a uniquely theatrical, thrilling and terribly moving show.”

Samuel & Alasdair: A Personal History of the Robot War went on to win three 2010 New York Innovative Theatre Awards, including Outstanding Production of a Play, Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Sound Design (Stowe Nelson). The show also received four additional NYIT Award nominations, including Lila Neugebauer for Outstanding Director, Marc Bovino for Outstanding Lead Actor, Joe Curnutte for Outstanding Lead Actor and Stephanie Wright Thompson for Outstanding Lead Actress.

The cast includes Joe Curnutte as The Host (Unnatural Acts at Classic Stage, La Femme Est Morte at PS 122 and 59E59), Marc Bovino as Dr. Mischa Romanov (Lush Valley and Rus(h) at HERE), Stephanie Wright Thompson as Anastasia Volinski (Have You Seen Steve Steven? with 13P, Six Years at Humana Festival) and Michael Dalto as Alexei ‘Tumbleweed’ Petrovya (Pride and Prejudice at Actor’s Theatre of Louisville). All four actors starred in the highly acclaimed Mad Ones’ sophomore production of The Tremendous Tremendous at The Brick Theater in April of 2011.

Lila Neugebauer’s directing credits include Anne Washburn’s When The Tanks Break and Steven Belber’s Tape at Williamstown Theatre Festival, Edgewise at Cherry Lane, The Wii Plays at Ars Nova, Josh Conkel’s The Sluts of Sutton Drive at EST and Inspector Pennywhistle and the Nefarious Case of the Sweet Shop Murder with The Mad Ones at Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks Hot Dish.

The creative team consists of Stowe Nelson (Sound Design), Mike Inwood (Lighting Design), Jessica Pabst (Costume Design), Laura Jellinek (Set Design) and Michael Dalto (Musical Director).

Formed in 2009, The Mad Ones are a New York City-based theater collective that devises new work through a combination of automatic writing, in-depth dramaturgical research and structured improvisation. The Mad Ones create visceral, immersive and highly detailed theatrical experiences that investigate cultural memory and nostalgia. Their work incorporates live music, appropriates popular American genres and playfully re-imagines world history. Productions are generated through the involved collaboration of a core creative team, with actors, designers and director blending innovative ideas into a cohesive final product. The company’s four Co-Artistic Directors are Marc Bovino, Joe Curnutte, Lila Neugebauer and Stephanie Wright Thompson. For more information on The Mad Ones visit

The two-time Obie Award-winning New Ohio Theatre has a twenty-plus-year history producing and presenting the most exciting, sophisticated, irreverent and boundary-busting downtown theatre. From their new home in New York’s West Village, they fulfill a distinctive need in the theater community, presenting works and supporting artists who challenge the mechanics of traditional narrative to create theatre that is both deeply humane and utterly fresh. The New Ohio Theatre has invited The Mad Ones to be a part of their inaugural season. The space is accessible from the #1 train to Christopher Street. For more information on the New Ohio Theatre visit

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