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Natural Selection Lends Laughter and Food for Thought

Tatiana Spragins | Sunday, February 21, 2010

Premiering this Tuesday at DeBartolo Performing Arts Center, “Natural Selection,” by playwright Eric Coble is an absurdist play, which is guaranteed to make the audience laugh, and reflect on their modern lives.
Performed by Notre Dame students and directed by Tim Hardy, “Natural Selection” takes place in the future where everyone eats microwave food, posts on blogs instead of engaging in actual conversation, wears tight sparkly leggings and has an entire wardrobe in their fanny packs. In this time setting, there is the Cultural Fiesta Theme Park where all things “cultural” are displayed — including Native Americans. When their Native American “stock” begins to run low, however, curator Henry Carson (sophomore Kevin Barsaloux) decides to go into the desert and bring back another specimen of this rare breed. Unfortunately, his precious find turns out to be part Nicaraguan with Chino-Brazilian ancestry. Paid to pretend to be a genuine Navajo, the adventures begin as the world starts to seemingly revolt against the technological taming which has been overruling nature. And so “natural selection” begins … and may the fittest survive.
The absurdity of the scenario we are presented with, complemented by the costumes and the dialogue, draw the viewer into a reality not so far from our own — but given an extra satirical twist. Nowadays, many families already eat only microwave food and to some people, blogging is the new in-person conversation. When the main character’s child is at a virtual school, playing the clarinet in his virtual band, we might feel a sneaking suspicion that in a not too distant future this might be our family. It’s a realization that gives us no other option than to laugh. And indeed, “Natural Selection” is a highly comical play that has a plot that is sure to make the audience toss their heads back in laughter, if not feel a touch of sadness or even concern for the path our lives seem to be taking.
Scenes such as the interaction of Carson with his wife, or his family with the half-native he captures are interesting to watch as Coble adapts our current modern life with what is, to a certain extent, a prediction of the future. “Natural Selection” is reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s classic “Brave New World,” having the same comic appeal rooted in the fear for a lonely future, where robotic attitudes compromise intrapersonal interactions and “culture parks” are presented as a wild form of entertainment, although the number of authentic “indigenous peoples” is now scarce. What is frightening to realize, and what “Natural Selection” highlights, is that these people, who are more and more rare to encounter, are the ones who carry our culture — thus being placed in a Cultural Theme Park. Technology is overriding our lives and our culture, leaving us cultureless. What happens when this lifestyle culminates is what the play dabbles in and what makes it such a success.
The play will be performed in the Regis Philbin Studio Theatre, a black box theatre, where the ceiling, the walls and the chairs are black, highlighting the contrast with the white minimalist scenario. The only props are a couple of tables, chairs and futuristic laptops. The characters change clothes on stage, adding or removing a jacket, tie or apron from their handy fanny packs. Extensively rehearsed and anxiously anticipated, “Natural Selection” is not to be missed.
“Natural Selection,” presented by the Department of Film, Television and Theatre, will premiere tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. and run through Sunday. Tickets are available online and at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center box office. They are $10 for students, $12 for faculty and staff, and $15 for the general public.