Posted in Alexander Graham Bell, Amanda Quaid, David Costible, Dr. Watson, Jeopardy, John Ellison Conlee, Leigh Silverman, Madeleine George, Sherlock Holmes, super-computer Watson, Thomas Watson

The Exquisite Assistant

David Costabile and John Ellison Conlee in Madeleine George’s “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence” at Playwrights Horizons under the direction of Leigh Silverman, and playing through December 29th.
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Say “Watson” and I think Sherlock Holmes.

Apparently so does Madeleine George, the author behind “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” at Playwrights Horizons through December 29th.

George does not limit herself however merely to the one Watson, but also imagines Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson, and the IBM computer that beat Jeopardy’s best. All the “Watsons,” (John Ellison Conlee,)  including the fictional one created for the play who is a techie on the “Dweeb Team” aim to please. They are, in many ways perfect companions, whose desire to serve their “master’s” and divine their needs.

As helpful as Watson is, so obstructive is Merrick (David Costabile). In his various incarnations as a techno-phobic paranoiac, as an  inventor out to destroy his wife, he is the least likable man on the stage, not to say the planet.

Eliza (Amanda Quaid) is the object of Merrick’s affections and distrust. Granted, she is not the only one he distrusts. Merrick’s rants against the government are poisonously amusing.

Eliza is building a computer, based on IBM’s “Watson,” that will understand what she wants. A great asssitant anticipates your desires. Eliza’s encounter with the techie Watson whom her husband, Frank Merrick, hires to follow her confuses her emotional landscape. In him she finds the living embodiment of the robot she is designing.

Eliza with the Watson robot she is programming: Amanda Quaid and John Ellison Conlee. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The concept, nicely executed by the actors under Leigh Silverman’s able direction, is neat and fascinating, but like human interactions unpredictability. In many ways, the idea behind the play is frittered away by the many paths the plot takes. It’s an entertaining and thought-provoking foray, but it ultimately disappoints.

For more information on “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” please visit
http://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/curious-case-watson-intelligence/