The curtain at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Broad Street in Philadelphia, opened on a small crowd this past Super Bowl Sunday. Props to the attendees, that were not deterred by the days coming festivities, and decided to enjoy live theater, which is so missed of late. The show, ‘EmpathitRaX’ - which will be shown until March 5th - went smoothly and passionately, leaving a lot to unpack at its end. Opening with a warm welcome from Taibi Magar and Tyler Dobrowsky, co-artistic director for the Philadelphia Theatre Company in their first season, and closing with the show’s educated science and arts panel talk-back, the whole experience felt very familial and personal.
The plot? This sci-fi by writer Ana Nogueira revolves around a troubled couple striving to get close to each other, resorting to a pill-popping remedy that allows them to share their exact feelings with each other through touch. Actors Makoto Hirano, Claire Inie-Richards, and Matteo Scammell easily shared chemistry and played their characters well, pulling both laughs and thoughtful “mmms” from the audience. Though the play said what it needed to say, the delving of the panel at the conclusion into the poignant message gave space for verbal acknowledgement of some very big ideas.
Honorary associate producer Gail Smith moderated with many questions, including the role of arts and sciences in empathy, how we can strengthen our empathy through the arts and the importance of action upon achieving empathy rather than leaving empathy as just an end goal.
One thing I did not expect to consider as I watched this play, was the deep thoughts into self, as though a mediation, while the action played out in front of me.
The thought-provoking discussion from the panel, which included director Nell Bang-Jensen, as well as representatives from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Penn Neuroscience, and a molecular lab, voiced the dangers and strengths of knowing too much about our partner's actual feels, strengthening empathy through the arts as a sort of ‘empathy gym’ to build empathy muscles, and questioning whether we have general communication problems as people. One statement, regarding the arts as a low-key to way engage people’s thoughts, makes an argument to attend MORE live stage time to grow as understanding individuals. As concluded, we recapitulate life ideas we see through the visual arts experience, and so we can best return to our thoughts on the concepts; Don’t need to tell me twice! I’m sold on live arts and look forward to seeing where PTC’s new leadership will bring theater in Philadelphia.
See it now through March 5. Audio Described and Open Caption Performance: Saturday March 4, 2023 at 2pm.