Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., 325-5105, washingtonensemble.org. $15–$20. 7:30 p.m. Thurs.–Mon. Ends Feb. 24.
Not everything that Washington Ensemble Theatre touches is flawless; but, as with many a fine jewel, imperfections can fascinate as well. That said, Michael Mitnick’s Ed, Downloaded is really more a sketch than a fully realized play, with some Bertha-sized credibility gaps. Director Ali el-Gasseir has his hands full with this strangely earnest fantasy, which never decides if it’s broad comedy or pointed satire.
Mitnick’s sci-fi premise is clever enough: Terminally ill geologist Ed (Noah Benezra) will have his mind stored in a box, and after his death it’ll relive a loop of 10 favorite memories for the rest of eternity. This apparatus comes courtesy of his girlfriend Selene (Gin Hammond), who works for a biotech company. Problem is, before his death (which ends the first act), Ed had been straying from the smotheringly protective harpy Selene and falling for the spontaneous, pixie-like street performer Ruby (Adria LaMorticella). Selene cannot bear that the man she nursed from illness to the grave would prefer to remember the happy-go-lucky Ruby. So which of Ed’s memories should be preserved—those of Ruby or Selene? That’s the conflict to be resolved in Act II.
Like HAL in 2001, Ed is now but a disembodied voice as Selene tries to replace his fond memories of Ruby with her own reconstructions—starring herself. The disconnect between his “organic” recollections and the newly implanted data leads to an inevitable meltdown, both inside the Ed box and between his rival lovers, paticularly when Ruby shows up to argue for keeping Ed’s memories intact. It’s a catfight over the rights to Ed’s intellectual property—now well corrupted by Selene.
Unfortunately, it makes little to no sense that Ruby could gain access to a high-tech laboratory to confront Selene. Nor does Mitnick explain how Ruby is certain that Selene is tinkering with Ed’s memories—since she doesn’t even know he’s dead. And in a lab full of glowing memory boxes, Ruby is somehow able to discern which is Ed’s. Mitnick sets up a clash between his heroines, then shrinks from its resolution—a defect I’ve never seen before at WET. This is doubly frustrating when the show looks great, thanks to Cameron Irwin’s set design and the film components that bring Ed’s memories vividly back to life. (Here we see just how low Selene will stoop to erase Ruby from Ed’s cyber-cerebellum.) That the playwright couldn’t figure out a way to pull his plot together seems lazy, beneath WET’s always crisp acting and presentation.
Just as Ed-in-a-box is able to tell what’s real from what’s faked or forced, theatergoers will find Ed, Downloaded to be mostly bogus.