SF Playhouse production 'Wirehead' explores a brave new brain

While an IQ test is required for some careers, “genius” profiling has yet to become a widespread phenomenon. But what if it was? 

Brain implants that increase intelligence capabilities cause the dominant rift in society in “Wirehead,” a play by award-winning writers Matt Benjamin and Logan Brown, which has its Bay Area premiere in an SF Playhouse production directed by Susi Damilano.

In the world of “Wirehead,” only members of the wealthy elite have access to “genius” brain implants, giving them an advantage over those below their socio-economic level. The play’s concept had its inception in futurist literature.

“We were reading books by Ray Kurzweil,” Benjamin says. “He wrote ‘The Age of Intelligent Machines’ and ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines,’ and he was thinking 20 years from now the merging of man and machine would be possible.”

The framework in “Wirehead” parallels other futurist dystopias created by the likes of Aldous Huxley, Philip K. Dick or even the film “Gattaca,” which envisioned vast discriminatory prejudice based on strictly applied genetic profiling.

By centering on the “haves” and the “have-nots,” “Wirehead” raises questions of ethical and moral codes for all members of society, taking a look at what could happen in the desperate attempts to acquire perfected, preferred intelligence. Murder? Civil war? The play’s post-implant world covers diverse results, from the comic to the tragic.

“The play is all about the divisions in society that technology would create amongst loved ones, family and the whole class system,” Benjamin says. “What happens to those left behind? As society advances beyond them, what will they do about it?”

When asked if he believes whether or not his play’s plot is plausible, Benjamin wavers in a long pause before giving in.

“I believe it’s possible sometime in the future,” he says. “And when it happens, there’s going to be a vast number of ethical and moral decisions that we’re going to have to make in society.”

Although Benjamin doesn’t want to wreak havoc on “Wirehead” audiences, he does believe in the potent immersion of the theatrical experience as an influential mode of communication.

“There’s a real visceral, cathartic experience when you’re watching these things take place on stage,” he says. “You get invested in that world that’s happening on stage, and there’s nothing quite like that, nothing quite as powerful.”

 

IF YOU GO

Wirehead

Where: SF Playhouse, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes April 23
Tickets: $30 to $50
Contact: (415) 677-9596, www.sfplayhouse.org

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