Over the years in this space, I have been a frequent supporter and chronicler of the vibrant community theater scene here in Falmouth. As a result, I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of the local legends who have graced the Falmouth stage.
From time to time, a new star comes along with a breakout performance and immediately joins the list of A-list performers who make every one of their shows a can’t-miss production. I remember several years ago watching “Music Man” unfold on the Kitty Baker stage at Highfield Theatre and marveling at the vocal range, the acting prowess, and the stage presence of a young performer captivating the audience as Marian Paroo. Today, Jodi Edwards is a local theater veteran who sells tickets just by having her name on the program.
As I watched a rehearsal for the Woods Hole Theater Company’s (WHTC) upcoming performance of a world-premiere production of an original play written by Falmouthite Gary Vacon, I had the pleasure of seeing, hearing and feeling the impact of the latest Falmouth theater newcomer sensation, Mia.
Mia delivers her lines with precision and authenticity. Her piercingly blue eyes captivate any audience. The depth of her intelligence is other-worldly. She performs her role so realistically that she has the audience believing she really is the character she plays. Well, she is. Kind of. Except that Mia is not real.
Or is she?
That question is both the conundrum and the brilliance of this gripping and thought-provoking play. When “Mia’s Cloud” opens on May 10 at the Woods Hole Community Hall, the question of Mia’s personhood will be center stage—literally and figuratively.
As Mia’s creator Gary noted on the “Mia’s Cloud” website, “Mia’s Cloud is the story of a company that plans to fix all that’s wrong with the Internet using artificial intelligence (AI), and the story of how the company’s actions impact the lives of an ordinary family. It’s the story of how good corporate intent is often corrupted by commercial concerns. It’s a story about how we are often so willing to hand a large portion of our lives and privacy over to companies that don’t necessary have our best interest at heart.”
“In a sense, this play is a warning to us all,” noted Gary, whose technology street cred as a veteran of large tech companies and his own successful ventures informed his writing on this important topic. He spent his career as an Internet entrepreneur and holds more than 50 patents and believes that the technological age in which we live, what he calls the “second industrial revolution,” has amazing potential—to both improve and destroy lives. Noting that the development of AI is “almost spooky,” he has often pondered the impact of large technology companies which gather, maintain, and use an unprecedented amount of information about all of us and how our willingness to give up pieces of ourselves for the sake of convenience and connectivity can lead to what he calls the “dark side” of technology, including “tribal divides, non-existent privacy and lost productivity.”
It was that concern for what he calls the “mechanization of thought” that compelled him to write “Mia’s Cloud.” But then he needed to bring his writing—and Mia—to life. Enter WHTC board member and local theater maven Annie Hart Cool, who is the show’s producer. She embraced Gary’s concept and question and helped bring the show from notion to motion.
“This is community theater at its core and we are excited to bring it to the community. The board of directors is actively participating in ‘Mia’s Cloud.’ From acting, producing, running the technology the board is proud to support Mia’s Cloud,” she noted. Veteran director Melinda Gallant brings a similar passion for local theater and a long résumé of successful productions. “We have to make people think— we need to watch what we give away,” she explained, sharing the message and the lesson of this insightful offering from her perspective. And as I observed the talented cast with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives perform during rehearsal, it became clear that the message and the lesson will be powerfully put forward.
Jeff Smith, who plays venture capitalist Bruce and works in marketing technology, noted that the show spoke to him, because it is “very real” and raises the important issues of “privacy versus convenience.” Likewise, Lisa Rudy, who plays Jane, the “Dr. Frankenstein” of the show who is the creator and caretaker of Mia, spoke of the scary realization Jane makes when she realizes she created a monster. “It’s all good until it isn’t,” she shared, foreshadowing the darkness that could result in an AI-controlled society. A playwright and self-proclaimed science fiction geek herself (Lisa can recite the title and content of every original “Star Trek”episode), Lisa shared that it is “cool to be on the other side” (acting instead of writing) and enjoys “tweaking” Gary’s characters and helping them come to life.
That sort of dedication to character development and passion about an original work like “Mia’s Cloud” is part of what makes the Woods Hole Theater Company such a local treasure. The amazing talent is as well. Adam Nelson has performed in hit movies like “Mystic River” and wildly successful television shows like “The X Files” and “Six Feet Under,” but he is just as comfortable on the stage in Woods Hole and is grateful to be back on stage on Cape Cod, where he began his acting while at Cape Cod Community College. His role as Frank in “Mia’s Cloud” led him to ask a simple question: “What is the tipping point?” meaning simply, when does our willingness to give up privacy for the sake of convenience make us no longer individuals?
Tickets for “Mia’s Cloud” are available on the WHTC website at www.woodsholetheater.org. Enter Mia’s world by seeing the show and answer the questions of that tipping point and her reality for yourself. Or you can at least try.
Mr. Clarkson may be contacted at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @TroyClarkson59.