Dr. Erik Mueller might have the most fascinating resume in all of Fringe this year, but The Computer That Loved’s meditation on his love life is still a work in progress.
Mueller, who wrote and performs the one-man show, can proudly say he helped build Watson, the Jeopardy-winning, cancer-diagnosing, business-analyzing artificial intelligence that (or “who?”) has earned its (“their?”) many headlines. But unfortunately that’s a story (and a question) for another time.
The Computer That Loved is a stroll down memory lane as Mueller tells the story of how the “computer” (Mueller, not Watson) learned to love. The script is honest, and every word is clearly in Mueller’s voice. Any awkward late-bloomers who knew more about computers than romance during their young adulthood will identify with Mueller’s astute, self-deprecating humor.
Breathing life into the narration, Mueller reenacts conversations with his childhood crush, a dispassionate ex, and his now wife, among others. His childhood crush is full of hope and earnestness, while his Ph.D. advisor stolidly crushes his dreams of a sexually fantasizing computer.
The show, or at least opening night, kicks off with director Clancey Yovanovich praising Mueller for recently adopting theatre as a new interest and improving so much during their final rehearsals. The calming of opening night nerves might be enough transform the show. A few more rehearsals could get this show to new heights.
As is, Mueller’s performance is inconsistent, ranging from funny bone tickling to recitations of autobiographical facts with a metronome’s rhythm. His reenactments of the women from his past and present also vary. Minor spoiler: Fans of Tommy Wiseau’s The Room will recall Carolyn Minnott as Claudette revealing the tragic news to her daughter: “I definitely have breast cancer.”
The Computer that Loved
Written and performed by Erik Mueller
Details and tickets
The Argonaut’s miniscule upstairs venue presents some technical challenges for Yovanovich and Mueller. For the first few minutes, the audience’s attention is split between the soft-spoken lead and the belabored in-window air conditioning unit that shares the stage, which is almost as loud.
In the Argonaut, two chairs and a desk make for a crowded set, which Mueller revolves around like the second hand of a clock. Over the run or with more direction from Yovanovich, Mueller might become more comfortable in the space and find smoother, more motivated movements. For now, Mueller’s relationship with the set is more like his relationship with his dispassionate ex than with his wife.
Blue and yellow gel lights (Leigh A. Mumford, designer and operator) alternate whenever Mueller reenacts a moment from his past, though difficult to spot under the strong glow of the constant stage lights. Due to the script’s sometimes staccato mix of flashbacks and narration, the accent colors can be abrupt and distracting, like performing under the glow of a traffic light.
The Computer That Loved is just the thing for people who can identify with Mueller’s nerdy voice and struggle to learn to love. AI supplicants might count themselves lucky just being in the same room with such a distinguished computer scientist, but Fringe audience members hunting for something flashy or passionate would be better off looking elsewhere.
The Computer That Loved. Written and performed by Erik Mueller. Directed by Clancey Yovanovich. Reviewed by Marshall Bradshaw.