Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Hard Problem
American Conservatory Theatre
Review by Richard Connema | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Left Coast News, Nogales and Casa Valentina and Patrick's review of The Last Tiger in Haiti

Dan Clegg and Brenda Meaney
Photo by Kevin Berne
American Conservatory Theatre is currently presenting Tom Stoppard's latest play, The Hard Problem. This is a fascinating 100-minute drama of sex, science, and supercomputing performed by a superb cast of actors who all give outstanding performance.

Hilary (Brenda Meaney), a young psychology researcher at an important brain science research institute, must confront her lover and mentor Spike (Dan Clegg) in a fight to defend the soul, altruism, and even God from modern science. She is in a high stakes race for funding.

There isn't much small talk or subtext here. It's difficult to grasp the dramatic basics since we are continually barraged with long dissertations of learning explanations such as "Will you show me how Gödel's Proof means a brain can't be modelled on a computer?" The average theatregoer would likely not know what the hell that means. There are a lot of these remarks in the play. The drama tries to enlighten what consciousness in its relation to the brain is, and answer the question can neuroscience ever solve that problem. Heavy stuff.

Director Carey Perloff has assembled a pitch perfect cast headed by Brenda Meaney as Hilary. She gives a persuasive performance as a woman who believes in altruism and God. Dan Clegg gives an outstanding performance as convinced materialist Spike. He is both crafty and obnoxious. Mike Ryan is excellent as Jerry the head of the institute. He's an authoritative patriarch to his daughter Cathy (beautifully played by Carmen Steele) and the haughty boss in the office. New York actor Vandit Bhatt is tremendous as Amal. Julie Adamo, Safiya Fredericks, Anthony Fusco, Narea Kang, and Stacy Ross round out the cast and are perfect in their roles. Carey Perloff directs the production with style and grace.

The Hard Line is not Stoppard's best work, but his formidable legacy, which includes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Travesties, Arcadia and The Coast of Utopia, won't rest on this.

The Hard Problem runs through November 13th, 2016, at A.C.T'S Geary Theatre , 415 Geary Blvd. San Francisco. For tickets call 415-749-2228 or visit Coming up next is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol opening on November 25 and running through December 24th at A.C.T.'s Geary Theatre. At the A.C.T. Strand Theatre will be Martin Moran in two different autobiographical shows, All the Rage and The Tricky Part, from November 29 and running through December 11.

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