I caught Saturday night’s performance of Welcome to Dystopia, the current production by Four Humors Theater; Becca Mitchell wrote a very favorable review of the show for the Daily Planet last weekend.
On the surface, Dystopia is a very different kind of thing from The Thing, though many of the same people—some of whom I’m friends with, be it duly disclosed—are involved, including director Samantha Johns. Welcome to Dystopia is a scripted (by Brant Miller and Matt Spring) sci-fi drama squarely in the mold of Logan’s Run, THX-1138, and other entries in the sub-genre for which its eponymous community is named. The production’s principal innovation on its predecessors is to play it for laughs—not satirical laughs (Woody Allen tapped that vein in Sleeper), but the kind of poignantly humane laughs Charlie Chaplin drew, laughs that are inspired by empathy for likable characters trapped in unlikable situations.
The fact that The Thing and Welcome to Dystopia were created by many of the same people, though, and feature multiple overlapping tropes—affectionate licking, dancing in unison, the use and abuse of mass-market paperbacks—serves to underline a fundamental theme that’s common between them. The Thing was about real-life contemporary relationships, and Welcome to Dystopia is about a fictional fascist society, but at the heart of both shows are characters trying desperately to build and maintain emotional connections in the face of frustrating and seemingly arbitrary constraints.
Dystopia has an unrealized kiss, where The Thing had a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich that was never completely eaten. In both shows, personal confessions are blurted out by multiple characters in sequence—or simultaneously—and, often, immediately regretted. In Dystopia, you can’t caress someone unless The Person In Charge says you can. In The Thing, the unrequited longing was just as acute, but subject to the whims of personal affection rather than the edicts of a man in a white suit. Which is more true to life—and which is more painful? As Welcome to Dystopia dramatizes, captivity may be frustrating, but freedom is no picnic either.
Photo: Welcome to Dystopia (and The Thing) cast members Tom Lloyd and Alisa Mattson. Photo courtesy Four Humors Theater.