Alex Nussbaum’s Handbook to the Future: A Brave New Worrier (Machineman) 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival Review

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Alex Nussbaum’s Handbook to the Future: A Brave New Worrier, a thought-provoking play about the future of humans and technology at the Toronto Fringe Festival, proves that creator and performer Alex Nussbaum really does know about what we humans should worry about in our increasingly online future.

It’s to Nussbaum’s credit that in this his first Fringe production, he makes the stuff of staid futurists a smart laugh-out-loud evening at the theatre.

Nussbaum knows all about worrying about the future. He knows the music: the audience is welcomed by future-pessimistic songs like Zager & Evans’ “In The Year 2525” and Daft Punk’s “Technologic”. He made it through Y2K: the first scene opens on the 31st of December in the year 1999 at 11:58 PM, as he and the rest of the world waited to see if a software glitch really would wreck civilization.

What we really should be concerned with, though, is the way that we’re increasingly becoming a permanently plugged-in society. It’s something that the audience probably can’t stop when an announcer conceded that it probably can’t be expected to stop texting friends or checking Twitter accounts. He in fact invited members to follow @alexnussbaum and asked only that they dim the screens of their devices.

Humans, Nussbaum argues, have been giving more and more importance to increasingly powerful and inexpensive electronic devices like Nussbaum’s own beloved iPhone 4S and a cloud storage that spreads our private documents and knowledge worldwide. All this will take us into a cyborg future, Nussbaum worries, not paying attention to what we risk losing and forgetting that this kind of increasing integration carries risks. The Library of Alexandria burned, after all. Who’s to say that a future catastrophe couldn’t wreck things just as thoroughly?

It would take a special performer to make this serious stuff something that would make people laugh. Nussbaum, happily, is that performer. His physical energy, his obvious knowledge of and love for his play’s subject matter, and his inventive wit takes the audience along with him. Showing his background in standup comedy, Nussbaum switches between different characters–a reassuring lab-coated scientific, a critical tefilin-wearing rabbi, a panicked pessimist–with ease.

When he says things like “I worry, sure, I worry and I figure I may as well share these worries with you,” the audience laughs with him, and keeps on laughing. The direction and stage management, provided by Pat Thornton and Jõsh Friggen Murray respectively, was also effective, a simple uncluttered stage providing plenty of space for Nussbaum to make his transformations.

My only concern with Alex Nussbaum’s Handbook to the Future is that it sometimes tried to tackle too many issues in too little detail. The theme of losing privacy came up several times during the night, but I’m not sure it makes sense to be concerned about a loss of privacy and a loss of data. If someone’s afraid of losing data, what better way is there to keep it but than to make sure that backups are everywhere? There is not a contradiction between the two concerns, but the two do complicate each other. If Nussbaum had explored these sorts of complications instead of passing over them, I think that the play would definitely have benefited.

Alex Nussbaum’s Handbook to the Future: A Brave New Worrier is one of those plays that manages to be educational and fun. Go for the laughter, and stay for the insight into the future we’re already starting to live in.

Details
Alex Nussbaum’s Handbook to the Future: A Brave New Worrier is playing at the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Avenue.

Performances
Thursday July 4 at 9:15 pm
Sunday July 7 at 6:30 pm
Monday July 8 at 1:00 pm
Wednesday July 10 at 4:00 pm
Thursday July 11 at 5:15 pm
Friday July 12 at 9:15 pm
Sunday July 14 at 3:30 pm

Tickets

  • Individual Fringe tickets are available at the door for $10, cash only. Late comers will not be permitted.
  • Advance tickets are $11 ($9 + $2 service charge) are available online at fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062 ext 1, or in person during the festival at the Festival Box Office in the parking lot behind Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor St W).
  • Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows.

Poster provided by the company