Two Point Oh, by Jeffrey Jackson, is a truly fascinating play, tailor made for the Information Technology world we live in, yet very much an old-fashioned morality tale. It raises serious issues – about technology, about marriage — but in a humorous, often satiric, way, and takes its audience on an intriguing journey full of surprises.
The set is dominated by a huge screen and on it the face of Elliot Leeds (get it?), brilliantly embodied by Jack Noseworthy. He is a Steve Jobs-like character, founder and CEO of a pioneering software company, Paradigm, and he is Skyping with his wife, Melanie, from a jet taking him to a G-8 Summit in the Pacific. He is rehearsing his speech, but she wants to talk about more intimate matters, like their attempts to have a child. Suddenly, the screen goes blank and we discover, via a deliciously O’Reilly-type blowhard, Jerry Gold, on his cable TV show, The Straight Story, that Leeds, age 43, has died in a plane crash.
Or has he?
Months later, Melanie receives a software package with a virtual-reality simulation of Elliot that he has spent years preparing. Programmed with thousands of hours of his thoughts, speech and image, Elliot 2.0, a software-based version of himself reappears on the screen and, eventually, leaps into Melanie’s heart.
The other two characters in the play are Ben Robbins, who co-founded Paradigm with Leeds, and Catherine Powell, now CEO of Paradigm. For different reasons, they are horrified by Leeds reappearance, and try to prevent the world from finding out.
What is Elliot up to? I will not spoil the fun, except to suggest that the vision of Elliot 2.0 is even more grandiose – in a Frankenstein-like way – than the arrogance of the original. It’s quite a ride and, to my surprise, Act 2 is even better than Act 1.
This is a first-rate production, expertly directed by Michael Unger. It’s a pleasure to watch it unfold in this intimate theater. The simple but remarkably efficient set design, by Kris Stone, and the complex media projection, by David Bengali, work perfectly. Jack Noseworthy is totally mesmerizing as the larger-than-life Elliot Leeds. Jackson has created a high-level snake charmer — wonky, seductive, manipulative — and Noseworthy makes him absolutely believable and compelling. Michael Sean McGuinness is equally accomplished and forceful as the self-absorbed TV commentator Jerry Gold. And Antoinette LaVecchia chews up the scenery as the hard-driving, take-no-prisoners CEO, threatened by Leeds’ reanimation.
Basically, this is a play of ideas. If there is a weakness to the drama, it’s that the story of Elliot and Melanie’s marriage, though critical to the plot, is not that emotionally engaging. Whether that’s because Karron Graves as Melanie Leeds is less compelling or because the character she inhabits is less interesting, it’s hard to say. Similarly, the story of Ben Robbins – always overshadowed by his old college buddy – though believable, doesn’t wring our hearts, despite James Ludwig’s best efforts. As written, Melanie and Ben are collateral damage to the Svengali-like character of Elliot, passive rather than assertive. Their roles and story could use some tightening and sharpening, as could Act I, which goes on a bit longer than necessary.
Overall, however, I really enjoyed this entertaining and intellectually stimulating play. And for all you techies out there, don’t miss it!
I look forward to Jeffrey Jackson’s future work. He is a playwright to watch.
Photos by Jimmi Kilduff
Two Point Oh
59 East 59th Street
October 3 through October 20, 2013