Manufacturing Consent, first a book by linguist/philosopher/activist/
Jobs acts as narrator and exposition-fairy, filling in background on the real-people characters for the audience, and keeping the tale moving. The piece is set at a competition for new artificial-intelligence devices; Chomsky has been invited as a judge under somewhat mysterious circumstances. He arrives to discover Elon Musk presiding over the event, and also learns that one of his own protegés, Millie (one of the few wholly fictional characters), has entered a device into the competition: the Print-a-Friend, a device that looks like a mashup of an industrial photocopier and a toilet, and which will (re)animate the author of any book inserted into it, thus allowing people to get guidance and dialogue from, say, their favorite philosophers of yore.
Unfortunately, the first book dropped into the Print-a-Friend’s maw is none other than Atlas Shrugged, thus bringing the famously combative, dogmatically uber-capitalist Ayn Rand onto the stage, to face some who lionize her (Musk, Jobs) and some who loathe her (Chomsky). When Tiny Donald Trump and Karl Marx are also extruded, the ensuing plot is one third caper (everyone wants to abscond with the machine), one third techno-thriller (there are robots among us), and one third absurdist black comedy (the aforementioned tango, not to mention most of the utterances out of Trump’s mouth, Karl Marx rapping, and a lot of stories about cats. Apparently Karl Marx was quite a cat fancier. Who knew?).
Pedro Reyes’s puppet construction makes the real figures delightfully recognizable (though Chomsky does look a wee bit like Woody Allen) with signature traits treated with just the faintest hint of caricature: Jobs’s black turtleneck, Musk’s square head, Rand’s strong features and blocky build, Kahlo’s famous eyebrows. And there are some genuinely cool puppet “special effects.” Millie–both character and puppet–is a bit of a weak link, though, in both puppet design and in David Hufker’s script; she’s described as a sort of feminist warrior, but she gets a little lost against the broadly drawn historical figures, as well as being more plot device than character. Even the hapless Wendy’s clerk seems to have more of a personality. Other visual elements are almost entirely done through David Pym’s video projections.
Manufacturing Mischief throws a lot of things at the wall–jokes, ideas, polemics, musical numbers–to see what sticks. It raises some important ideas, though doesn’t fully explore any of them–but in the end, it leaves us with a simple message for anyone interested in any of the political issues it raises: vote in the midterm elections. It’s hard to argue with that.
Manufacturing Mischief runs to June 24, 2018. More production info can be found here.