Don (Jonathan Walker) is an older, married man who once grew up and then ran the family ranch in Nevada. But as time and technology change he now finds himself trying to make a living on work that is delegated via service ratings and an algorithm.
All of this is designed and run by his millennial boss Hector (Adrian Anchondo) who is a wunderkid and YouTube star, who claims his vision of the future is based solely on meritocracy via the algorithm that he designed.
The play opens with a conversation between the two that goes off the rails quite quickly, as both make assumptions and interpret what’s being said as they see fit for the argument. Hector thinks Don is insulting him and his ethnicity, while Don’s anger and frustration build as he says Hector is putting words in his mouth. When Don’s temper gets the best of him he finds himself at a cross roads for how he will continue to provide for his family, which includes his African American wife Sigourney (Omozé Idehenre) who has been on disability for many years, and his ambitious daughter Katie (Jasmin Savoy Brown) who has put off her dreams of college to get a job and help the family.
Walker’s Don has a temper, and an old school idea of the promised glory days of yesteryear and the American way of life that he was raised on. As the play’s momentum builds, his actions and beliefs are fueled by the conservative radio station he listens to and the increasingly staunch belief that he is right. It’s Walker’s vulnerability and humanity that keeps him in the audience’s sympathy as much as they can. He never loses that sense of helplessness that is driving his actions to once again make sense of the world.
Anchondo has a more difficult balance for his character, who proclaims he wants to make everything better but whose methods and interactions can seem callous. Seemingly, in his desire to make everything more equal his ideals have turned more militant. He is equally as entrenched in his beliefs as Don, but his arrogance makes it less easy to forgive the character for his casual cruelty.
Ironically, both characters are driven by their shared fragile masculinity and desire to prove themselves as people others can depend upon.
Idehenre is warmly sympathetic as Don’s wife, and as she gains her independence and confidence it only makes Don feel more adrift. Brown as their daughter Katie is calculated and driven, and her behavior seems like a far reach, but is the key to the twist at the end.
Mike Sears is excellent as Don’s friend Mike who commiserates with Don and shares his politics and frustrations, but doesn’t quite trust his friend’s impulses.
Directed by Patricia McGregor, this show keeps a steady sense of tension while also opening up a dialogue about how the problems will only build as the generation’s failure to communicate continues to escalate.
The show does rely upon some intensifications that stretch plausibility, but on the night I attended everyone in the audience was in active conversation about the show.
By helping encourage an open conversation about the complexities of communication in a world where tech, identity, and politics get ever more complicated WHAT YOU ARE is a show worth watching.
WHAT YOU ARE is playing through June 30th and for ticket and performance time information go to www.oldglobe.org