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Jon

The matrix, by its very nature, is a complex network of lies and illusions, it's effectiveness enhanced by the ever-deteriorating condition of those caught in its web. In Jon—based on a short story by George Saunders and adapted for the stage by Seth Bockley—now receiving its regional premiere by The Catamounts, we see such a world only a few metaphors removed from our own dystopia.

Ryan Wuestewald as Jon and Sonia Justl as Carolyn
Ryan Wuestewald as Jon
and Sonia Justl as Carolyn
Photo: Michael Ensminger
As soma lubricated Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, in Jon it is Aurabon that helps manage population control and maintain complacency, by keeping a group of teenagers within the confines of well-oiled dogmas and their own self-satisfaction, much in the insular manner of high school cliques or religions or cults. As Jon (Ryan Wuestewald) explains, Aurabon makes everyone feel "gladder." Everyone, that is, except Carolyn (Sonia Justl), who is pregnant, which means she is not taking the pharmaceutical.

The reward for staying "on message" (medicated) is, to use a Socratic expression, "the unexamined life," of video games and obliviousness to those living outside this experiment monitored by three Coordinators, Mr. Slippen (Jason Maxwell), Mr. Dove (Verl Hite) and Mr. Delacourt (RJ Wagner). While the other teenagers—Brad (Tyler Compton), Kimberly (Michelle Hurturbise), Ruth (Miriam Tobin), and Josh (Joe Von Bokern)—enjoy the benefits of this mecca of brand names and ego gratification without a second thought, Carolyn beseeches Jon to consider alternatives.

Beneath the veneer of a satirical melodrama, the script deftly reveals the stirrings of consciousness beyond the matrix. As the title character and narrator, Wuestewald, charming in an unassuming way, carries us along Jon's meandering road to self-discovery, delivering a remarkably natural take on the truncated, Aurobon-induced language (thought) patterns, the patois of world in which oral tradition has been replaced by Madison Avenue product jingles and fantasies. Speaking of Orwellian prophesies, Justl's finely tuned balance of alienation and tristesse hearkens to Winston Smith in 1984. Unlike Orwell's tragedy, however, Jon provides a collaborator on the inside, the compassionate Mr. Slippen. Maxwell incrementally cracks Slippen's circumspect façade, and then busts open a humorous vein that makes all the difference in selling the unexpected ending.

Joe Van Bokern as Josh, Miriam Tobin as Ruth, Ryan Wuestewald as Jon, Sonia Justl as Carolyn, Michelle Hurtubise as Kimberly, and Tyler Compton as Brad
Joe Van Bokern as Josh,
Miriam Tobin as Ruth, Ryan Wuestewald as Jon,
Sonia Justl as Carolyn,
Michelle Hurtubise as Kimberly,
and Tyler Compton as Brad
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Happily and surprisingly uncharacteristic of the dystopic genre, the playwright posits that knowledge is engendered by one's willingness to consider alternate worlds, that material objects are seductive illusions, and that dreams of love are within reach.

Despite the acoustic challenges of the East Theatre at the Dairy Center for the Arts, for anyone who has taken their teenager on a hike only to find them spending more time texting than enjoying the bounty of nature, it's worth the drive to Boulder to envision alternate outcomes.

The Catamounts' regional premiere of Jon, based on the short story by George Saunders, adapted for the stage by Seth Bockley, runs through March 16th. For tickets, call the Dairy Center for the Arts box office, 303.444.7328, or visit www.thedairy.org.

Bob Bows

 

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