“I’m going to make you irresistibly sexy,” the brooding and troubled Eliza tells Watson, who sits stiffly and implacably, facing the audience, in the opening scene of Madeleine George’s “The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence,” a 2013 play now in its West Coast premiere at Shotgun Players.
“That sounds great,” intones the bespectacled Watson.
Eliza gets more than she bargained for.
She’s a scientist, and Watson, we quickly learn, is a prototype of a new humanoid specimen that she’s designing to be the perfect partner: a good listener who wants nothing more than to please his lover.
Love, in this very slightly futuristic world in which artificial intelligence has progressed to the inevitable next level, is a mysterious, perhaps unattainable, thing. And do we really want perfection in a partner, anyway?
Actually, Eliza’s experimental Watson, rather confusingly, is only the first of two modern-day Watsons.
The second Watson, a computer repair dweeb, may or may not be fully human. (Playwright George was inspired by the supercomputer named Watson that won a “Jeopardy” tournament against two humans in 2011.)
There are other Watsons, too, in this endlessly complex play, which weaves back and forth in time.
The contemporary American characters — Eliza, the two Watsons and Eliza’s ex-husband, a conservative running for political office — morph seamlessly into and out of characters in 19th-century England: the agitated Mrs. Merrick, an unhappily married woman who’s come to consult with Sherlock Holmes but meets a benevolent Dr. Watson instead, and Mrs. Merrick’s not-so-benevolent inventor husband, who is creating an artificial version of his wife.
There’s also an early-20th-century scene involving the Watson who was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant.
Thus George mingles history and fiction as this beautifully imaginative play goes back in time to the early stirrings of modern technology’s irresistible attraction.
How consistently, the play points out, we humans have been trying to use that technology to connect with one another, for better and for worse.
Director Nancy Carlin moves the long and slightly over-talky play seamlessly through its eras and emotional curves, and the cast is topnotch: Brady Morales Woolery as all four Watsons, clearly defined; Sarah Mitchell as the two high-strung versions of a distressed woman; Mick Mize as the two obsessive, ranting husbands.
This is a production that is consistently engaging, even if it’s at times difficult to sort out the interlocking strands of the plot.
The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence
Presented by Shotgun Players
Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, closes Sept. 10
Tickets: $25 to $40
Contact: (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org