There are a lot of big ideas and serious science in Venus in Gemini at the Exponential Festival: A near future America where states’ rights have devolved into literally selling states to the highest (or “most fun”) bidder. (South Dakota has sold itself to Russia, for example.) Quantum entanglement, and how it might pertain to twins. The fundamental nature of time. How black holes actually function. But somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts: individual moments flicker and spark, but the show tends to either circle back upon them compulsively, or breeze past them, rather than either digging deeply into its science or shooting forward with its plot.
Creators Eleanor Parker Robb and Kirsten Harvey play “lady twin astronaut geniuses who love space,” and in this post-nation-state state of affairs, they’ve been selected for a unique mission, one that requires twins. Ostensibly, they’re training to explore the atmospheric conditions of Venus–global warming and the potentially foreseeable uninhabitability of Earth being another of the play’s near-future pieces of exposition–but as their training progresses, they start to suspect they’re being misled.
They start to have strange experiences during their training–not being able to look in a mirror; one feeling pain experienced by the other–and begin to wonder whether in fact they are partly the subject of the experiment. And it starts to seem that their real task is both stranger and more dangerous.
But while the underlying quantum physics may be sound (the program contains a bibliography of works cited, including scientific journal articles on black holes, a NASA study about the physical changes experienced by twin astronauts, and a book by Italian physicist and science writer Carlo Rovelli), the science of what exactly is happening to the twins never really comes to life. They have a ritual of taking a specific medication together every day–crunching on a pill and checking the other’s mouth to ensure it’s fully swallowed–but other than that, there’s not a good sense of how this entanglement is created or what it might do.
The production is necessarily stripped down for both the festival setting and the tiny Loading Dock space, embedded inside a loft, but it feels like they’ve gone too far in the direction of simplicity. Keenan Hurley’s sound design brings in engaging music, but not a real soundscape that speaks of space, or the presumably machine-filled environment the women are training in. And Kedian Keohan’s direction is tonally placid–everything seems to be happening on the same emotional plane.
Where the science frequently speaks of entangled twin particles, Robb and Harvey have made a mental leap to quantum entangling actual human twins. And while I think this may be very bad science, it’s an intriguing concept to build a play around–as is the near-future America they’ve loosely sketched in as exposition. But Venus in Gemini doesn’t quite know how to capitalize on either of them.