Neil McGowan’s play “Disposable Necessities,” having its premiere at Rogue Machine in Venice, is part sci-fi yarn, part comic farce and part timely social commentary. It’s hard to pin down its style, but one thing is certain: McGowan’s rich imagination challenges our expectations at every twist of its deliciously disturbing plot.
The action is set in the not-so-distant future, when the privileged of society become essentially immortal, able to download their identities into new “modules” — bodies of the recently deceased. Those enormously expensive bodies aren’t available to the have-nots, who must content themselves with providing carcasses for the affluent. Gender fluidity has taken on a whole new meaning in this brave new order, with people swapping sexes according to what is available. Youth and beauty, as always, drive the marketplace.
Once celebrated author Daniel (Darrett Sanders) is now a has-been supported by his wife, Al, nee Alice (Billy Flynn), who opted for a male module to advance her stalled career. (It worked.) Daniel got a new module way back when, but he’s clearly showing his age, so Al is nagging him to re-up and get a shiny new self. Their son, Chadwick (Jefferson Reid), went African American this time around — a cultural appropriation made all the more hilarious by Chadwick’s clueless attempts to adapt.
When Daniel’s old friend Phillip (Claire Blackwelder) arrives in the body of a nubile young woman, the sexual politics among the characters grow ever more complex and comical. Despite Al’s hectoring, however, Daniel is resistant to change, as is his estranged daughter Dee (Ann Noble), who has a particularly pressing reason for wanting to get out of her old body, pronto.
David Mauer’s scenic design has the right touch of the high-tech without veering into parody, as do Christine Cover Ferro’s shrewdly updated costumes. Matt Richter’s lighting, Christopher Moscatiello’s sound and Michelle Hanzelova’s projections all lend to the subtly futuristic ambience.
Director Guillermo Cienfuegos and a lively cast tear into their material with brio. As women play men, and vice versa, the actors could be accused of occasionally slipping into caricature, but what matter? They serve the piece’s comic rhythms and nail down the laughs — or, conversely, the pathos. Just don’t lay bets on where the story ends up. You’ll lose.
Support our coverage of local theater. Consider a digital membership.