Madeleine George had thought about becoming an actor. In high school, she wrote plays mostly to perform in them. After high school, she enrolled at Cornell University, where she learned quickly that acting didn’t offer the right avenues to explore all of her interests.
Instead, she chose to focus on linguistics, a field she believed would help her better understand the emotional devices of language and become a better writer.
“I wanted to know how language worked, very specifically,” George recently told Playwright Horizons. “But then I began to feel like the lives of linguists, extraordinary though they are, are so laser-like — those people are, like, experts on the gradual transformation of a single clitic in a language that no longer exists … I felt like I wanted to ask bigger questions about language and using language.”
So she turned back to the theater world, enrolling this time in NYU’s writing program to pursue a graduate degree. George’s first major productions, "The Most Massive Woman Wins," "The Zero Hour," "Precious Little" and "Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England" all garnered critical praise, but it was her 2014 drama “The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence” that earned George a Pulitzer Prize nomination in drama and the Outer Critics Circle John Gassner Award.
The play spans three centuries, weaving together six characters, all named Watson and Eliza, from the 1800s to near present day. The spine running through each plot is a relationship with technology and the changes it creates, or doesn’t create, in the people around it.
We first find Eliza, a former IBM scientist, at home with her latest invention, a robot named Watson. The duo has tuned in to “Jeopardy!” to watch another IBM computer named Watson make history. The storyline quickly thickens with complication when Eliza’s ex-husband hires a man named Watson to spy on Eliza, a move that, perhaps unsurprisingly, leads to romance.
Meanwhile in the late 1800s, Dr. Watson, biographer to Sherlock Holmes, is employed by a concerned wife whose industrialist husband’s jealousy and delusions seem to be growing in tandem with his mechanical inventions.
Lastly, George introduces the audience to Thomas A. Watson, assistant to Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, through a 1931 radio program, during which Watson is being interviewed about the invention of the telephone.
It’s a hefty plot to carry on stage, but at its core is a heartfelt tale of human stagnation against the backdrop of decades’ worth of technological advancement. The tools and gadgets may evolve, but human emotion and relationships stay comparatively unchanged.
“The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence” stars Pure Core Ensemble members Scott Smith-Pattison, Camille Lowman and Laurens Wilson; Cristy Landis directs. The production will enjoy a 14-show run at Pure Theatre, 477 King St., from Jan. 20 to Feb. 11. Tickets range in price from $25 to $32 and are available at the venue box office, online at www.PureTheatre.org or by calling 866-811-4111. Call 843-723-4444 or go to the venue website for more information.