It’s only an exceptional comedy that simultaneously entertains, educates, satirizes and surprises. The Engine of our Disruption by Patricia Milton is such a rare play. It’s a brand new, up-to-date exposé of the goings on with AI (artificial intelligence) in Silicon Valley and with the unfortunate state of politics in Washington, DC. But the depiction is accomplished with a tongue-in-cheek sassiness that lets the audience go home chuckling (but with just a bit of unease).
The Engine of Our Disruption, Central Works, Berkeley City Club, extended through Nov. 19
Chelsea Bearce (Bamboozled) shines brightly as Kamiri Firestone, a young woman recently fired as the ethics officer of a well-known high-tech automobile-sharing platform, which became notorious after she blew the whistle on its many ethical lapses. Kamiri is now living back home with her mother, a charming, Chanel-clothed Republican U.S. senator whose own ethics are blithely situational at best (delightfully acted by Jan Zvaifler).
After being labeled as a pariah for her honesty, Kamiri is surprised to be chosen to interview for the job of Chief Ethics Officer (“C-Eth-O”) at Bubble, a new tech company that is experimenting with driverless cars that use AI. And who is heading up Bubble? Kamiri’s ex, Xtopher Wolf (an on-point performance from Mike Tuton).
Xtopher has his own reasons for wanting Kamiri back at his side, but they are entirely business-related. His company is about to introduce legislation in Washington that could insulate Bubble from liability. After all, Kamiri does know a senator quite well — she lives with one.
As the play continues, we learn that Bubble has developed a new wearable product that can forever solve bothersome daily ethical problems. Just ask Bubble’s app what to do rather than have to think about such murky decisions.
One of the pleasures of The Engine of Our Disruption is how closely playwright Milton mimics and satirizes the attitudes and jargon of Silicon Valley, for better and for worse. Xtopher has the perfect “tech-bro” arrogance, as does his programmer Chip (Louel Señores, who performs the bro perfectly). So what if their autonomous car had a serious collision? It did avoid hitting an innocent chipmunk, after all. And that could be seen as a feature, not a bug. But also, the comedy raises some more somber issues about the imposition of internet ads on our lives, leaving us with food for thought.
“I’ve been interested in AI ever since I noticed using GPS has led to my inability to navigate my own car,” said playwright Patrica Milton. “As we adopt AI more and more, what other human faculties might get weaker?”
With its top-notch acting and Gary Graves’ skilled direction, Engine of our Disruption explores our state-of-the-art technological concerns with humor and insight.
The Engine of our Disruption runs through Nov. 19 (the run was extended) on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights at the Berkeley City Club, that magnificent Julia Morgan-designed building at 2315 Durant Ave.
The theater only seats about 50 people, so get your tickets early. Advance tickets, Fridays through Sunday, are $35-$40 (service fee: $2.75), and all remaining tickets are available on a sliding scale at noon on the day of the show, $15-$40. Pay what you can on Thursdays. Reserved seats are only for subscribers. For information, extended dates and tickets, call 510-558-1381 or visit the Central Works website.
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