Michael Rabe's dark comedy THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT WAS may seem familiar to those weaned on iPhones, text messaging and ear buds. With a cast of six, Rabe holds a mirror up to a handful of 20-somethings who seem to live a more vibrant life via virtual reality rather than with the real McCoy.
His play, the inaugural production of the Kindling Theater Company, tackles issues of identity, morality and religious bankruptcy, among other topical conundrums.
Rabe, who is both playwright and actor in this debut production, shines a harsh but truthful light on the behavior of his struggling generation. "It's a play about growing up," said the 27-year-old son of the actress Jill Clayburgh and the playwright David Rabe. "I feel there's a lot of cross-information of how to actually grow up in this world. The television image of 'reality' influences everyone who watches, and there are these crazy reality TV shows that try to tell you how to live."
The dramedy circles around common themes that hamstring and sometimes sabotage the characters' behavior. "The play focuses on the characters dealing with a lot of resistance in how they're attempting to live," Rabe said.
"We have a limited concept of who we will become and our actions tend to sabotage our future without our even being aware of it," he continued. "Ultimately, the path tends to linger and trip us up when we least expect it."
Rabe's character (Sean) has a habit of putting on different personas when encountering women he casually meets. Ultimately, Sean's shtick of pretense comes back to bite him and influences the trajectory of the story, which has as many laughs as it does serious moments.
"I meet someone in our building and she becomes the attraction for me and my roommate and a competition is sparked," he said. The action continues with the men vying for the affections of the woman to whom they're both attracted. "Even a knock at the door can turn around the direction of your life in the play," he said. "These characters are all in a similar boat but they don't know it and they struggle to connect with one another in a very distracted way."
"Anywhere you look today you see people with their headphones or ear buds on and staring at screens," Rabe said. "That kind of checking out seems to be encouraged - it's easy to keep your eyes on an external device rather than being in the reality of the moment. You miss a lot of your life and miss wonderful impromptu things that you're too preoccupied to notice."
The relationships intertwine in surprising ways, Rabe said. "The three main characters care about each other but just can't seem to get out of their own way. Our hearts tell us one thing and our heads another. There are all these attempts to become part of society but somehow they get further away from living a fulfilling existence."
He thinks the play will appeal to all generations, not just those in their 20s. "I hope the audience gets some laughs and ultimately are left with good questions about themselves and leave feeling encouraged about their future.
"The magnitude of life can be sort of paralyzing and there's a slight paralysis in the beginning of the play, but by the end you're still concerned about the characters and are hopeful they'll figure it out."
THE FUTURE IS NOT WHAT IT WAS is produced by the Kindling Theater Company and is presented at Walkerspace Theater, 46 Walker Street. It plays Thursday-Saturday and Monday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Feb. 2. Tickets are $18.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride / WM Photos