Arts theater review

Are we real or simply made of code?

‘World of Wires’ makes us question the credibility of our reality

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Hunter (Hunter Richardson ’19), Professor Li (Andres Galindo ’18), Naz (Samarth Mohan G), Mr. Kitt (Max Fishelson ’20), and Cynthia (Adelynn Paik ’21) are featured in the opening scene of 'World of Wires.’
Jay Scheib

World of Wires
Directed by Jay Scheib and Emily Ranii
Written by Jay Scheib
Theater at W97
April 25–May 5

It’s not hard to imagine that in this world of constant progress, we will soon be able to simulate our own history, which raises the question: how do we know we aren’t already in one? How are you sure that your life is not just being watched by some post-human civilization?

Much like a simulation, we see the actors’ world through the confined eye of a camera roving the set. Projecting onto a white, half-sheet half-block wall, it follows the actions of the cast and gives us glimpses of each character’s motivations.

Just moments into the play, the brilliant, but crazed, Doctor Li (Andres Galindo ’18) stumbles across the stage, setting the tone of confusion and existentialism that would permeate the rest of the play. Frantically searching for a mirror, Doctor Li sets in motion the first of several mind-bending reveals: while reaching for the mirror, he knocks a block out from the wall — one of the same blocks from the wall that the play is projected on — and into the audience, allowing our first glimpse into the set proper, a fact that the characters begin to notice.

Then, the impossible happens.

Mayer (Andrei Cretu G), bodyguard to Head of State Metro Goldwyn (Brandon Sanchez ’18), unintentionally collapses the fourth wall, causing the beginning of the absurdism of the play. At the same time, Doctor Li goes on a paranoid rant about being in the very kind of simulation that he was hired to create — much as actors on a stage, for example.

In a whirlwind of scene changes, the audience is guided through a path of confusion and a series of nested simulations, to the point where our protagonist, Hunter Stopper (Hunter Richardson ’19), realizes that her reality, the one that we started in, is a simulation itself. Having realized this, this sets a sporadic witch hunt onto her as the other characters seek to drown her revelation to maintain the sanctity of the simulation.

In the chaos of existential crises and nihilist themes, the occasional absurdity provides a welcome reprise. Or take an abrupt interlude, for example, when two of the characters are set free into the audience to live their greatest superstar dreams.

Plot points aside, another thing of note is how each character is so distinct and well-performed. You realize Hunter’s motivations and the obstacles the other characters pose. Paige Turner Monroe (Lily Zhang G) is the seductive secretary, constantly distracting the others away from their original goals. Mr. Kitt (Max Fishelson ’20) has an ulterior motive that isn’t fully realized until he gives a long winded speech that matches the energy of an auctioneer. And when one of the characters in the simulation freaks out, you’re reminded of those unfortunate video game NPCs that spaz out once something in their code glitches.

Then there’s the question of existentialism that arises as a result of the play’s themes. How do we know when they’ve finally escaped the world of simulations? Are all the characters representative of a real counterpart, or are they all simply figments of preprogrammed static? Should we be wary of the brevity of our own existence and whether or not our own lives are merely projections of a source code?

If it isn’t already clear, this show is not for the faint of heart. Above the soft piano rendition of Le sacre du printemps and cleverly partitioned sets, there are a multitude of loud noises, falling objects, and strobe lights.

It has to be said, this is an excellent play. The rational absurdity, level-headed confusion, and obfuscated clarity were magnificently presented and demanding of a second (or third) viewing. With non-linear storytelling to rival Momento and layers beyond Inception, this is an interesting next-level take on the mind-bending absurdist genre.