While Robert Frost pondered whether the world would end in fire or ice—and climate scientists argue that it could be both—some in the tech industry think world ruination could come from a much more subtle source: artificial intelligence.
Such is the massage behind “Mia’s Cloud,” a new play by Gary Vacon of Falmouth. Taking place about 15 years in the future and covering a span of several years, the friendly avatar Mia goes from innocuously spitting out facts to controlling infrastructures worldwide and then some, and ominously observing “that most people want their decisions made for them.” It’s a play that covers a lot of ground.
The story shifts back and forth between the company that created Mia and one family’s interactions with the technology and its many upgrades.
At “Mia’s Cloud,” in one corner we have CEO John (Mike Fishbein) and CTO Jane (Lisa Jo Rudy), both who envision Mia doing only good things for humanity. In the other corner we have Bruce (Jeff Smith) and Mark (Michael White), who represent Mia’s commercial side and argue the need to make money for their investors.
Making money involves compromising Mia’s altruistic objectives—over and over and over again. With each new objective, Mia learns what makes different people “happy,” and what she needs to do to keep them complacent. In business, even something created with the best of intentions also has to answer to the bottom line.
As Jane, Ms. Rudy is at first hesitant but finally willing to compromise her objectives in order to advance her creation.
Sally, a computer-oriented high schooler, is an early adopter of Mia’s Cloud and one of the first to catch on that Mia might not be acting in her best interest or without consumer bias. “When did you get so cunning?” she asks the avatar at one point.
With much of the action in the play centering around interactions with a stationary computer screen, “Mia’s Cloud” is dialogue heavy and light on action. In some places the lines are a little clunky. There were some missed lines on Saturday night, due I’m sure to the amount of dialogue and having not a lot of visual cues to get a performer back on track. Still, the main points of the play are easy to understand.
Jennifer Washburn is Mia. Ms. Washburn sits off stage speaking her lines while her facial gestures and movements are transcribed onto the avatar. Ms. Washburn has a great voice for the part, mostly friendly but with a little bit of an edge. It’s spooky between scenes when the stage goes dark except for Mia, casually looking out from her glowing screen.
In addition to having a cool avatar in their cast, WHTC uses projected backdrops to distinguish between the Mia’s Cloud business office and the family’s home, leaving more room on stage for the actors to move about. The performers also make use of the space in front of the stage for a few scenes. Veteran Upper Cape director Melinda Gallant is at the helm of the show.
Ultimately it’s the young people who see through Mia. Brother and sister Sally & Kyle (Charlotte Green and Zach Morris) go up against Mia’s Cloud with the help of savvy old-school lawyer Professor Jones (Susan Cushing) while, in a scene that seems straight out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” their once vibrant and individualistic parents Fran and Frank (Kimberly Hargis and Adam Nelson) stare trance-like at Mia’s screen.
There’s a bit of existentialism in Act II, and both Jane and Mia ponder what it means to be a “creator.”
“Mia’s Cloud” the play might have a few bugs to work out, but it gave me and my teenage son something to talk about in the car on the ride home from the Community Hall, and that itself was worth its weight in cryptocurrency.
“Mia’s Cloud” continues at the Woods Hole Community Hall through May 26. Showtimes are 7:30 PM on Fridays and Saturdays and 2 PM on Sundays.