'Mean Girls' Meets 'Star Wars'

Shoe Horn, Cranberries CD, Neck Brace and Morse Code enter stage left. These vain, shallow, suspicious and oblivious robots are just some of the quirky, young and sexy characters you will meet in Robots vs. Fake Robots, a play presented by Etcetera, the late-night series at the Live Theatre Workshop.

Now in its eighth season, Etcetera is Tucson's longest-running late-night theater series.

"Etcetera was originally created as a program to offer a more challenging and contemporary set of plays for both our actors and our audiences, who were growing a little stir-crazy as a result of too much time spent with Agatha Christie and Neil Simon," said Christopher Johnson, the artistic director of Etcetera and the director of Robots vs. Fake Robots.

Johnson said he received the script for Robots vs. Fake Robots from local playwright Toni Press-Coffman—and decided after reading the first three pages that he was going to direct the show.

"I had never read or seen anything like it in my life. The dialogue and story are so unique and compelling," said Johnson.

David Largman Murray, the writer of Robots vs. Fake Robots, said his parents bought him a video camera when he was 9, and he started using it constantly, creating short, bizarre films. "I started writing plays and screenplays when I was 15 years old, and I have been doing that ever since. Oddly, playwriting and screenwriting was all I ever wanted to do."

The play is mostly about aging and mortality, sexual profiling and America's raging obsession with the new.

"Most of my work concerns the idea of a real identity and a false identity—and where you draw the line. How do you know if something is real? How do you know if something is fake? Does it matter?" said Largman Murray, who is currently in the University of Southern California's MFA program for screenwriting and television writing.

In the play, robots have almost completely replaced humans, due to deadly gases that have killed off most organic life. The only things left are robots who look like people, and people immune to the deadly gases—who long to be robots.

Largman Murray was inspired by a clever line of dialogue that randomly popped into his head. "I don't even think he is a real robot" was the line; it is now in the play, spoken by the robot-whore named Garlic Press.

"I couldn't stop repeating that line to myself; I thought it was hilarious," Largman Murray said. "The idea of not being a 'real robot,' was so compelling to me. After coming up with the title, I knew I just had to write a play with that title and concept."

How can the resulting play be described? Johnson answered: "If I were to wrap this play up in a little package, I would call it an historical sci-fi opera. We've been jokingly referring to it as Mean Girls meets Star Wars, with Lindsay Lohan as Darth Vader," said Johnson.

Johnson chose to produce the play simply using light, sound and contemporary costumes; other than the presence of the performers, the stage is completely bare.

Johnson said influences for the costumes included goth and fetish fashion, steampunk, Daft Punk music videos, America's Best Dance Crew and Lady Gaga. "These robots just want to look like sexy young humans, but they're still not human, so they don't quite get it right," said Johnson.

Johnson touted the show as one of the most exciting projects that he's been involved with. "As a director, I've never worked on something that challenged me so profoundly to create and invent a living, breathing piece of art. As an audience member, it's one of the most exciting things I've ever seen onstage. The show is so funny and loud and sexy and menacing and gory and epic. It's just thrilling to watch," said Johnson.

According to Johnson, audiences so far have enjoyed the show. Etcetera has developed a consistent following—but this play has attracted a lot of new patrons, curious about what a play called Robots vs. Fake Robots could possibly be about, Johnson said.

Robots vs. Fake Robots is about 75 minutes long, without an intermission. All actors and the director are available after each performance.

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