THEY EXTRACT! (Alma’s Engine): Love is a verb
May 22, 2016 - Owen Hamill
Woolen (Swift Shuker & Mal Cherifi) and Pop-pop (Dan Higbee) in THEY EXTRACT!
In THEY EXTRACT!’s dystopian future, a company called Emotus is able to extract love from it’s employees in order to power the grid. When one of these employees, Woolen (Swift Shuker & Mal Cherifi), falls in love with Vera (Emily Dale White), they must decide how much love to give to Emotus, and how much love to keep for themselves. THEY EXTRACT! works best when it focuses on the implications of a company that has exclusive contractual rights to love.
Many of the play’s sci-fi/futuristic elements are introduced via an overexcited opening monologue from Pop-pop (Dan Higbee), who used to work for Emotus and is so emotionally depleted since his wife’s death that he tells the audience, “When I cry, I cry freshwater.” His daughter, Vera, has moved home to take care of him, and it’s while she’s home that she meets Woolen, a romance quickly blossoming between the two. But Woolen is a “mine” at Emotus (a productive one, able to generate lots of love that Emotus then harvests), and Vera worries if Woolen will have enough love left over for their relationship.
Through the lens of Vera and Woolen’s relationship, the play begins to pose questions about the very nature of love, without necessarily providing answers. When Woolen tells Vera’s father about their love, Pop-pop replies, “You’re a mine. You love everybody.” Is love still precious if we’re contractually obligated to have an infinite capacity for it? How many people can we share true love with? What happens to us when/if we run out of love? And, most heartbreakingly, what happens when the object of our love is no longer there, leaving us with love left to give but nowhere to direct it? Here, the play does seem to have a pessimistic edge to it, set as it is in a world where characters are forced to choose between their love and their lover, a world where having only one or the other is worse than having neither.
In a play bursting with ideas, there are bound to be a few that remain on the fringes. For example, Emotus tried in the past to extract love from a mountain, but was only able to extract a tiny bit before the mountain sunk into the ground. Additionally, the sentient computer in Pop-pop’s house claims to be able to love other operating systems. These instances of inanimate love are never quite integrated into the main narrative, preventing the play from gelling into a 100% coherent whole, but writer/director Eppchez’s dialogue is plenty poignant and thought-provoking. (When discussing the mountain sinking into the ground, Woolen says, “History leaves holes for the future to either fill up or fall into.”) Although set in the future, THEY EXTRACT! succeeds as a timeless meditation on the nature of love.
[The Skybox @ The Adrienne, 2030 Sansom Street] May 20-29, 2016; theyextract.brownpapertickets.com.