Alma and Baya are living in the only home they’ve ever known, a two-person pod far from Earth, with malfunctioning machines and a dwindling food supply, when an unexpected stranger comes knocking on their door, casting an ominous shadow.
Playwright and director Edward Einhorn’s “Alma Baya” presents a familiar science fiction set up, right down to the unisex silver lame uniforms and the sudden flashing of multicolored lights accompanying a really loud alarm.
But the production by Einhorn’s Untitled Theatre Company #61 also feels smartly tailor-made for the specific moment in which we are living. This is in part because the story offers allusions to such current crises as a world-wide pandemic — at one point Alma compares the stranger to an infection – and more extensively to climate change.
We eventually learn that all three characters are clones of human beings, sent by actual human beings to test whether survival is possible in this new environment – presumably because Earth is becoming uninhabitable. The pod becomes a microcosm of what will happen when the world’s natural resources are depleted. Alma and Baya let the stranger in, mostly because Baya insists it’s the compassionate thing to do, but from the get-go Alma thinks it’s a mistake — that only two can survive in the pod. Alma also doesn’t trust the stranger, and indeed at first wants to let her die so that Alma can inherit her spacesuit. Their own spacesuits have broken down, which is why they can no longer go outside the pod and grow their own crops, and why they’re hungry. (I wish Einhorn had put in at least a line about why they couldn’t just grow the crops hydroponically inside the pod.) The stranger (never given a name) remains a mystery to Alma and Baya, and also to the audience. The bulk of the 70-minute play is taken up by the contest of wills and shifting alliances and perceptions in their individual efforts to survive.
As clones who know nothing about human nature except what they read in the instruction manuals their cloners have written for them, Alma and Baya and the stranger are, in a sense, hybrids. And that, too, is what this production of “Alma Baya” is, a hybrid. It’s being performed live at A.R.T./New York through August 28, with some performances also live-streamed; it will be available online on demand through September 19. There are also two sets of casts, reportedly as a COVID safety measure. All this too is, obviously, a reflection of the current moment. Both casts did a fine job in bringing out the humor in the script, much of it revolving around their naiveté. Yes, I watched the show twice, both times on my computer, because the first time the live-streaming felt distancing, not a native experience. Despite the effort at translating for the screen, with close-ups and varied angles, the online version of the stage play felt more like …a clone? Digital theater has come a long way in the last year and a half, and, as live in-person theater returns, I look forward to advances in hybrid theater. The experimentation is worth it.
Written and directed by Edward Einhorn
Running time: 70 minutes
Cast A: Sheleah Harris, Rivera Reese, Ann Marie Yoo
Cast B: Maggie Cino, JaneAnne Halter, Nina Mann
Set Designer: Mike Mroch
Costume Designer: Ramona Ponce
Lighting Designer: Federico Restrepo
Sound Designer: Mark Bruckner
Livestream Designer: Iben Cenholt
Stage Manager: Karen Oughtred
Assistant Director/ASM: Becca Silbert
Box Office Manager: Berit Johnson
Production Assistants: Caleb Barron, Sarah Grant, Glafira May, and Sarah Morse.