Data-Driven Dilemma

Say, for example, a very large group of people had to be systematically executed and discreetly disposed of for the greater good. How would you go about doing it? Would you hire a team to work out the logistics? How many teams? How much would each team know about the other teams? What chilling assumptions might they eventually reach about their assignment? These questions and more like them are the subject of Ideation, the story of a group of engineers and consultants tasked with a top secret and ethically treacherous assignment: designing an effective and cost-efficient way to “liquidate” millions of people should an extinction-level event virus ever threaten humanity’s existence.

Ideation takes on the challenge of making the work of corporate engineers and consultants into less than mentally stultifying fare. Much of it is spent working through theoretical circumstances with mathematical precision and a great deal of the drama plays out on a whiteboard full of equations and diagrams. Playwright Aaron Loeb manages to spin all this meticulous calculation into a nifty little thriller, one which begins as a seemingly harmless thought experiment before developing into very immediate danger for everyone on stage. The cast is well balanced but Mark Anderson Phillips is the unofficial star of the show. He projects a sort of feet-on-the-table level of comfort on stage that allows him to own the space more thoroughly than his co-stars. He provides a comedic buoyancy that maintains the play’s darkly humorous edge through its grimmer moments. It would be a lesser show without him.

Granted, for all of the moral number crunching that takes place in Ideation, it ultimately doesn’t feel like it has much of a moral perspective. The play becomes too lost in gleefully exploring the possible allegiances of individual characters to feel like it has much relevance to humanity as a whole and the ultimate conclusions are too murky for there to be much of a message. But no matter. It’s impressive in its own right to be able to touch on homicide, genocide, mass extinction and Disney without being too heavy handed.

Ideation runs through April 17th at 59E59 Theaters.  59 E. 59th Street  New York, NY.  1 hour 30 minutes.  No intermission.

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Ben Botwick

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