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'Comic Potential' brings robot love to the stage

Falling in love with a robot is a troublesome thing to do.  

Distinctions between humans and machines may be less profound than people would like to believe—at least according to Duke Players' current play, "Comic Potential," which premieres Oct. 29 at Brody Theater. "Comic Potential,"  written by Alan Ayckbourn, is a science fiction romantic comedy that takes place in the near future. In this future world, live actors have been replaced by actoids, or acting robots, who are unable to feel emotion. Or so it seems, until one robot malfunctions and starts to laugh. After a human and actoid fall in love, the play forces the audience to questions definitions of humanity and love.

“It’s a take on human emotion and love through an android’s eyes,” said freshman Morgan Fears who plays lead actoid Jacie Triplethree.

With its slapstick comedy and classic British humor, "Comic Potential" is sure to be entertaining. The show points out how important it is to see past the tragedy of life to be able to appreciate the laughter we often take for granted. And it'll be hard not to laugh after watching "Comic Potential," especially when one of the characters gets a pie shoved in their face. 

“It’s not your typical romantic comedy—it raises a lot of poignant questions about our humanity,” said director Cullen Burling, a senior. 

Man versus machine is a common motif in science fiction. But it doesn't always provide black and white definitions. Considering the ever-changing technological landscape and advances we’ve already experienced in the last hundred years, the question of what defines humanity and what defines machines is now more relevant than ever. 

Providing a new insight into this dialogue on what it means to be human, "Comic Potential" emphasizes a human quality not often considered: humor. Comedy is a uniquely human value, and allowing a robot to use humor questions whether a robot that could understand humor could be considered human. 

“Everybody at Duke is very deep," Fears said. "This is a show that will make you laugh a lot, but also make you think about your relationships in general and underlying reasons why people act the way they act." 

In examining a relationship between a human and a robot, the show questions the meaning and significance of love, and whether or not love with a machine could be real.

In addition to the play's thought-provoking plot, it also features a freshman-dominated cast.  

“It’s always really exciting to work with freshmen," Burling explained. "It’s especially weird as a senior because I can see myself at that time working with all the seniors and upperclassmen." 

Whether a freshman or senior in Duke Players, the actors for "Comic Potential" are exploring a genre not commonly explored on stage with interesting roles that pose real inquiries into the relationships around them.

“If we are human because we laugh and we love, then what if these machines can laugh and love? Are they not human as well?," Burling said. "Maybe these categories aren’t as simple as we make them out to be.” 

After watching "Comic Potential," it is up to the audience to decide how they feel about these questions. Although the play does not give a definitive answer, people watching it will find new ways to interpret humor, love and relationships in their day-to-day lives.

“It’s something that, no matter who you are watching it, you can find a little piece of yourself within the play,” Fears said.

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