"Machine Learning" - by Francisco Mendoza - Central Square Theater (Cambridge, MA.) - REVIEW

(Cover Photo: Armando Rivera in a scene from Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING," now playing at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA. until February 25, 2024. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)



By Kevin T. Baldwin

METRMAG Reviewer

# 774-242-6724   


“Three: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law."

                                                                               - "Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics"


Central Square Theater

Presents Francisco Mendoza's

"MACHINE LEARNING"


Written by Francisco Mendoza

Directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman

Cast Includes: Sugandha Gopal as "Anita," Armando Rivera* as Jorge," Xavier Rosario as "Young Jorge," Jorge Alberto Rubio as "Gabriel," Matthew Zahnzinger* as "Arnold"

Additional Creative Team:

Scenic Design - Janie E. Howland*; Costumes - Kiara Escalera; Wardrobe Supervisor - Katherine Scott; Lighting - Amanda Fallon; Sound - David Remedios*; Props - Julia Wonkka; Projection Designer - SeifAllah Salotto-Cristobal; Stage Manager - Jenna Worden* Assistant Stage Manager - Lisette van der Boogaard, Dramaturg - Sofia Cadona; Sound Engineer - Kai Bohlman; Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant - Kira Troilo (Art & Soul). 

* Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Produced in partnership with Teatro Chelsea 

A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Production 

Performances:

January 25, 2024 through February 25, 2024

(Contact Box Office for Exact Times)

CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER, 450 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139 

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TICKETS:

# 617-576-278 

https://www.centralsquaretheater.org/shows-events/season-tickets/

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Yet the story is not just about emergence of manufactured computer intelligence - it is about the emergence of something more honestly evolved - the emotions a very human son did not expect to feel for his estranged father...and the emotions he feels for the "son" he creates. 

That is where Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING" ultimately emerges as successful, thanks also, in no small part, to a fabulous staging by director Gabriel Vega Weissman.

While Artificial Intelligence purports to be the theory and development of computer systems being designed to initiate and perform requiring little involvement by humans, the threat of us "humans" creating something that can make life decisions about us all and totally on its own is terrifying.

(Photo: Armando Rivera as "Jorge" and Jorge Alberto Rubio as "Gabriel" in a scene from Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING," now playing at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA. until February 25, 2024. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

Since college, young scientist Jorge Aguirre (Armando Rivera) has been working on developing A.I. concepts such as a system "intuitively" performing reflex actions as a result of visual perception, speech recognition or decision-making.

Rivera is totally committed to the character and, on stage for most of the story, keeps the pace flowing steadily. 

Jorge's father, Gabriel (Jorge Alberto Rubio) is a man troubled by many demons, the biggest of which is not his alcoholism but rather his adherence to what he feels is his traditional male gender role.

Fathers and sons - what we perpetuate in the name of being either a father or a son. One of the many considerations as one watches "MACHINE LEARNING."

Rubio is outstanding in a layered, thoughtful portrayal of Gabriel, determined not to have the character land into some one-dimensional cultural stereotype or one of toxic masculinity.

(Photo: Xavier Rosario as "Young Jorge" and Jorge Alberto Rubio as "Gabriel" in a scene from Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING," now playing at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA. until February 25, 2024. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

We also see the relationship Gabriel had with his son, going back to seeing young Jorge (Xavier Rosario) and his earliest negative memories. 

Rosario is extremely impressive as the young computer genius, showcasing the chasm that grows out of a father not quite fully comprehending the remarkable abilities of his son.

However, as estranged as father and son became, the bond never completely severed.

Wanting to help his aging father, now feeling the full effect of years of alcoholism coupled with a cancer diagnosis, Jorge works to aid his father in dealing with these "later life" issues. 

So, Jorge creates and adapts an A.I. prototype to monitor his father and to report to emergency contacts should any medical emergency arise. Jorge has named the system "Arnold."

(Photo: Sugandha Gopal as "Anita" and Armando Rivera as "Jorge" in a scene from Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING," now playing at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA. until February 25, 2024. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

As "Arnold’s" learning develops and Gabriel’s health deteriorates, Jorge must confront his responsibility as a son to Gabriel and as a "parent" to "Arnold." 

Yet, something goes horribly wrong - and Jorge tries to find out the root cause of the A.I. failure by talking directly to his system.


In his effort to figure out exactly what happened, Jorge speaks to "Arnold" as a father might respond to his child if they did something wrong.

Again, fathers and sons - what we perpetuate in the name of being either a father or a son. 

Jorge's advisor and mentor, Anita (Sugandha Gopal), is enthusiastic about Jorge's ideas - less so about his proposed application of where the technology can be best implemented or utilized.

Gopal is fully committed to the character although the character itself could have been developed a bit more than as scripted.


On a technical level, this is a fabulously visceral experience.

This isn't special effects solely being used for the sake of having effects. Under the clearly focused direction of Gabriel Vega Weissman, the effects used are critical in propelling the story forward and each one is executed with precision timing.

(Photo: Armando Rivera as "Jorge" speaks with the unseen "Arnold" in a scene from Francisco Mendoza's "MACHINE LEARNING," now playing at Central Square Theater in Cambridge, MA. until February 25, 2024. Photo Credit Nile Scott Studios)

Although the A.I. personality of "Arnold" evolves, Mendoza's play feels less like an attempt at presenting this evolution story as a cautionary tale but more like an embrace of something that is inevitable. 

If there is an element of caution, it would probably be more in how we humans might find ourselves interacting (sooner rather than later) with "personalities" such as "Arnold" - and how those interactions will ultimately define US as a race.


# 617-576-278 or visit www.centralsquaretheater.org

Please note: there is strong language used throughout this show. This is not recommended for any child under the age of 12.

Approximately one hour, 40 minutes with no intermission

Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) 

@MetrmagReviews

@Theatre_Critics

ABOUT THE SHOW

Artificial Intelligence is here. 

There’s no turning back. 

“Arnold” (named after the Terminator) is a nursing application created by wunderkind computer scientist Jorge to provide personalized treatment to Gabriel, his estranged and ailing father. 

As Arnold’s learning increases and Gabriel’s health deteriorates, Jorge must confront his responsibility as a son and accountability as a creator. 

Full disclosure: This play description is 100% human content.

"MACHINE LEARNING" is written by Francisco Mendoza and directed by Gabriel Vega Weissman. 

Produced in partnership with Teatro Chelsea. 

A Catalyst Collaborative@MIT Production 

 

ABOUT CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER

CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER (CST) is dedicated to the exploration of social justice, science and sexual politics through theater; catalyzing the dynamic synergies sparked by the collaboration between The Nora and Underground Railway. Through award-winning productions, the Catalyst Collaborative@ MIT Science Theater Initiative, and youth development programming – CST creates theater where points of view are heard, perspective shifts, and change can happen. 

CENTRAL SQUARE THEATER 

450 Massachusetts Avenue  

Cambridge, MA. 02139 

# 617-576-9278 

centralsquaretheater.org