By Laurie Dietrich
I assume you know what a holodeck is. But Michael Verdi doesn't. He devotes a good chunk of his 45-minute performance piece, Holodeck, now running at Jump-Start Performance Co., to exposition. Admittedly, it is fan-friendly exposition - generous dollops of Star Trek: Next Generation footage shown in hi-res on dual projection screens, with crystal-clear sound. But it's still exposition, and much less interesting than the final few minutes of the piece, when he is finished with the set-up and gives us the images out of his own mind.
Verdi, a filmmaker and Jump-Start company member, is perhaps best known for his contributions to the company's multi-media productions. So it should be no surprise that the most polished part of Holodeck is the image-interacting-with-image, creatively-projected, visually stunning end.
The rest of the piece is rather un-polished, seemingly designed to be so. Although the tech is tight and shiny, Verdi delivers his semi-scripted text from notes, creating a vibe that is part lecture, part stand-up routine. He is sincerely talking to the audience, not performing at or for them. And what he's talking about deserves more than 45 minutes. Here's hoping that Holodeck, like most J-S company work, will continue to evolve.
Verdi, who dresses the part, admits unashamedly to being a Star Trek fan who wants to live long enough to see that future. He has developed an immortality plan, based on ideas explicated on Next Generation and in the movie The Matrix, and on some quickly glossed-over quantum physics applications, and he wants to tell you about it. In a one-way conversation that is fascinating in all the ways those conversations often are - Verdi makes you want to talk back, to argue, to yawn, to scoff, to agree, and to elaborate.
Good thing he makes himself available for a post-performance discussion every night.
I also wanted Verdi to explore the intersection of cyber-fi and religion, which felt like the elephant in the middle of the room. He talks about projecting ourselves into vast simulation programs á la the popular Everquest computer game, essentially transplanting consciousness from carbon- to silicon-based form. He even poses the sticky question - who runs and maintains that simulation? But he stops short of making the "God is the Big Server in the Sky" analogy. His immortality manifesto steps on religion's toes - religion being mankind's death-avoidance strategy of choice - so shouldn't it acknowledge the disputed territory? That's a philosophical catfight I'd sit through another 45 minutes for.
It's a provocative, evocative, unusual piece of theater, the kind of thing Jump-Start is known for taking a chance on, and for helping to develop. Leave your expectations behind and enter the Holodeck. Only one thing is sure - your experience will be your own. •