Watch Bedlam’s The Machine Stops below for a limited time. Directed and adapted by David Keohane from a story by E.M. Forster, it stars Zuzanna Szadkowski, Awesta Zarif, and Miguel Long.
Imagine a world in which people stay indoors and do everything by machine, where touching was obsolete, and people had a “horror of direct experience.”
This is what E.M. Forster imagined in his science fiction story published in 1909, and what Bedlam Theater Company has dramatized in an era when his imagined world has became close to our reality.
But “The Machines Stops” goes beyond an astonishing depiction of lockdown life during COVID-19. In the story, people live isolated in cities built underground because “the surface of the earth supports life no longer.” Given this premise, it’s no surprise that Bedlam is using their Zoom play as a fundraiser for the Climate Justice Alliance
Yet, the Zoom play, employing three expressive actors and a rudimentary shadow puppetry, presents a metaphor for modern life that’s broader – and fuzzier – than just a prescient depiction of our reliance on the Internet during the pandemic of 2020. The Machine represents the dominance of technology. It could also represent the oppressive (totalitarian?) state; there are references to the “Central Committee.” In the (convoluted and not completely clear) story of a mother who is happy with second-hand experience and daughter who yearns for something first-hand, The Machine is a stand-in for modern life in all its complexity and artificiality; “It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it.”
The hour-long Zoom play begins after a half hour concert by Olive Fine, who provides the haunting score of the play as well.