By Holli Harms

E.M. Forster is known for his rich novels of human deception and connection, of desire, lust, love, and betrayal. His novels A Room With a View, and Howard’s End became major motion pictures. His stories inhabit multiple characters and emotions and breathtaking landscapes. His short story “The Machine Stops” is nothing like those.

This is Forster’s leap into a dystopian world, written in 1909, it is nothing short of remarkable. The story is a masterpiece, an incredibly complex narrative that builds slowly on itself. He has parred down the world to two inhabitants, a mother, Vashti, and her son, Kuno. Kuno lives on one side of the world and Vashti on the other. Both live below ground as do all the inhabitants of earth as an apocalyptic event has made the surface of the planet uninhabitable. All live alone, in isolated spaces where their only companion is The Machine which answers their every need with the simple push of a button. They CAN converse with others through an apparatus that is visual and audible. Sound familiar? Kuno wants his mother to come and visit him. He wants human connection and touch not just the visual and audio on the screen. She is apprehensive, as to get to him means leaving her room with its comfort, smallness, and safety. Living in isolation as all those alive do (children are taken and raised by The Machine right after birth), touch and connection are difficult. When you are deprived long enough of something you learn to do without it, and in some cases mistrust it for its very reason for ever existing. Again, Forster wrote this in 1909.

The story is stunning in its descriptions, and in its characters. This stunning piece has been lifted off the page and brought to the stage by Kevin Ray and his sensational collaborators.

The cast of five moves about the palatial and spacial Mark O’Donnell Theater with precision and speed and at times on the wings of fairies. One minute they are there and the next not. Deb Hertzberg’s shadow puppet design using the actors, along with Jon DeGaetano’s projection design and Wyatt Moniz’s breathtaking lighting all help to push Forster’s story beyond imagination. You are in space, then you are in an unrecognizable underground world, and then you are whirling over our beautiful planet as it rebirths itself.

In this world, people have no jobs, no one to worry about, and no one to cook for or care for. We are alone but for our friends and acquaintances on screen. Vashti announces she has over a thousand friends. There are no books to read but the book of The Machine with thousands of pages to tell you how to operate it to get what you desire, and how you are expected to behave. These earthlings spend their days searching for good ideas as proof of a life lived and of value. I think, therefore I am. A good idea can lead to satisfaction and can lead to time spent pondering the idea and expanding on it. A life well spent. One can share one’s ideas by giving lectures over the Zoom-like apparatus, which are attended by thousands from all over the world.
At some point though, when ideas have dried up, when existence seems futile and unsatisfactory, one can ask to be euthanized.

What Kuno wants to share with his mother in person are the lies The Machine upholds about what is on the surface. He has found a different reality.

Ray’s production is a Space Mountain roller coaster ride, an intellectual white water rafting expedition, a production that will have you talking about it for hours and days to come. In it are the seeds for 1984, A Clockwork Orange, The Road, and countless more stories and films (think The Terminator). How did Forster predict Zoom? Was he a time traveler?

It is a magical evening at the theater.

“The Machine Stops” By E.M. Forster,  Directed & Adapted by Kevin Ray
Devised in collaboration with Augustus W. Cook II, Jon DeGaetano, Robert A.K.
Gonyo, Wyatt Moniz, Deb Hertzberg, Alyssa Korol, Ian McNally, Henry Menestrier, Uki
Pavlovic, Rachel Rhea Shannon, John Teresi, Lya Yanne & Yang Yu

CAST : Vashti: Rachel Rhea Shannon, 
Kuno: Uki Pavlovic, 
Chorus & Air-Ship Attendant: Lya Yanne, Chorus & Traveler: Jon Teresi
, Chorus & Lecturer: Augustus W. Cook II

CREATIVE TEAM:Director: Kevin Ray, Projection Design: Jon DeGaetano, Sound Design: Robert A.K. Gonyo, Puppet Direction & Design: Deb Hertzberg, Lighting Design: Wyatt Moniz, Costume Design: Alyssa Korol, Original Music: Ian McNally
Scenic & Props Design: Yang Yu, Production Stage Manager: Henry Menestrier

90 minutes, no intermission.

The Mark O’Donnell Theater at the Entertainment Community Fund Arts Center, 160 Schermerhorn St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

All tickets $25 general admission (plus Eventbrite fees) Students – $5 off with promo code STUDENT Seniors – $5 off with promo code SENIOR