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By MARK BLANKENSHIP
For as long as there have been machines, there have been stories about machines replacing people, and that tradition gets a sly twist in Ken Ferrigni's new comedy Mangella.
Now at the Drilling Company in a production with Project:Theater, the show follows Ned (Anthony Manna), a computer hacker who's trying to cure his stroke-addled father with experimental drugs, old family photos, and (ahem) a prostitute. Ned never leaves his apartment---not even when things with the prostitute go bizarrely awry---but he doesn't mind. He's got his computer, an old PC named Gabriella (Ali Perlwitz.) Ned and Gabriella joke, bicker, and sometimes make love, so who needs human contact?
Beneath this tomfoolery, there are several pointed questions. When we interact with technology all the time, do we need it to seem "human?" And if we do, what does that mean?
Those questions have certainly impacted the cast. "I don't always think of my computer as separate from me," says Manna. "I depend on it a lot to live my life: How I get the news, how I keep in touch with my friends. All of that is done on my computer." He adds that he's fallen into the "trap or habit" of posting comments on sites like The Huffington Post. "I don't even know who I'm expressing myself to. I just feel this need to do it. And when I've done it, I feel like I've accomplished something."
In other words, Manna's computer is wrapped up in his life like Gabriella is wrapped up with Ned. That underlines how Manna and Perlwitz play their scenes together. "I don't even think about her as a computer," Manna says. "I think of her totally as a human being."
The production invites the audience to think of her that way, too. Perlwitz may have bits of keyboard glued to her thighs and wires tangled in her hair, but it's obvious she's a human being, and she's not trying to pretend otherwise. "There were times when I was really into exploring [Gabriella] as a machine and an emotionless robot," says the actress. "But that wasn't really what Ken and [director] Joe [Jung] wanted. They said that all I had to worry about was that Gabby was me, who I am already."
She continues, "I think of her as me, and I think of me as needing Tony. I need him to sustain my life. I really need him around. It would be more difficult to be, like, 'I need him to plug me in.' I can't relate to that."
Ultimately, that may be the secret to performing in a show about computers and humans in love. As Manna says, "When you do a play like this, you have to broaden your idea of what reality is. It's absolutely true that I'm having sex with my computer, which is absurd, but when I think about it in terms of acting---vis-à-vis what I want, what I want to accomplish, what I want to get from her---I actually think it's the same concept whether I'm playing Falstaff or I'm playing Ned. These things have to happen, and I have to get what I want, whether or not they're based in a conventional world."
---TDF members can purchase discounted tickets to Mangella as part of the OffOff @ $9 program.
Mark Blankenship is TDF's online content editor