Corrib Theatre's “Metaverse” Reveals a Disturbingly Familiar Future – Willamette Week

Metaverse (Owen Carey)
In the distant past of 2019, back when Facebook was just called Facebook and hand sanitizer wasn’t a precious resource, playwright Hannah Khalil wrote a story about a dystopian future in which human interaction happens only through a computer screen.
Khalil called the play Metaverse, and since its inception, it’s only grown more relevant—and, regrettably, prescient, as Corrib Theatre’s new production (directed by Holly Griffith) proves.
Our story takes place in some unnamed future society, where a mother (Wynee Hu) works hard on a mysterious project for a tech giant, her only respite being weekly VR calls with her daughter (Annabel Cantor). Something else may be going on at the company, however—something sinister that the mother’s co-worker (Jerilyn Armstrong) may or may not be in on that makes our heroine doubt the very nature of her reality.
This is, of course, well-trodden ground for speculative fiction. The genre is littered with stories about the perils of artificially constructed worlds and the mechanization of human faculties, including relationships. Indeed, Metaverse can’t help but feel like a middle-of-the-road episode of Black Mirror. The question is, does the play add enough to a familiar genre to make it worth your time?
In a word, yes. Metaverse makes the wise move not to build its story on advanced technology, but rather the effect technology has on people. It grounds itself in the mother’s struggle, her relationships and her all too human desire to finish her work and reunite with her daughter.
Hu proves more than up to the task to sell that yearning and desperation. Her performance anchors the story in genuine emotions and makes it worth following.
This proves a necessary step, as Metaverse doesn’t concern itself in the slightest with creating a fully fleshed-out future. The nature of whatever stratified the world is never explained, and no onstage character is given the distinction of a real name.
The set consists of a single light-up desk and bright white angular arches, as if Fritz Lang had designed an Apple Store. The music offers eerie guitar notes from Quinn Mulligan, who occasionally joins the cast as the subject of the mother’s experiments.
All of this creates an eerie minimalism that none too subtly informs the audience how far off and unrecognizable this future is (in some respects), but it works in the story because the play is grounded in its relationships and the mother’s emotional journey. Her creeping paranoia is earned and, coming from a world of spyware and Google analytics, all too understandable.
Metaverse is a smaller story than one might expect from science fiction, but it’s still a personal tale about isolation, fear and the unwavering need for human connection we all share. At a breezy 60 minutes, it’s a compelling trip to a dystopia that’s not as far away as we might hope.
SEE IT: Metaverse plays at 21ten Theatre, 2110 SE 10th Ave., 503-389-0579, 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, through Dec. 18. $15-$35.
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