My review of Geek Theater: 15 Plays by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers will come out in short bursts. Sometimes I will devote these mini posts to a single play as in the below, other times I might discuss a couple of plays per post.
For the Living is a simple but elegantly crafted short play by Chie-Goon Lee, and it kind of blew my mind.
I’ve always felt like nobody has ever really gotten around the biggest problem with the idea of cloning in science fiction — namely that the cloned person’s consciousness usually does not transfer over to the clone; it is merely copied into the clone. So if I die and my emergency backup clone is activated, selfishly that is little comfort to me because even if the clone’s conscious seems very much like mine, my original consciousness is still very much dead. So what’s the point of a series of clones that allows versions of me to “live forever” if they won’t also allow me to experience living forever?
The character Kara asks a similar question early in Lee’s For the Living. In a routine outpatient procedure, she and her husband Ethan are having clones created from their DNA in case some tragedy should befall them. When she points out to the doctor, Varley, that the clone won’t really be her, he responds magnificently:
Why should the dead care if they get buried? Why should they give a damn if they’re buried? Or cremated? Or have funerals? Or gravestones, or wakes, or memorials, notices in the personals, or cloned reincarnations? You’re not here for yourselves. You’re here for each other.
It’s an immense and powerful idea; one that forms the backbone of Lee’s swift little play.
In a matter of months, of course, tragedy does befall the couple. (I will try to avoid spoiling how and to whom.) Lee smartly marks this passage of time by calling for a few vases of carnations in Doctor Varley’s office in various stages of bloom. Carnations are probably the most messily symbolic flowers there are, alluding to young love, funerals, and the biblical crucifixion story all at the same time. Fittingly, Lee’s episodic tale attempts to unpack the mashed-up emotions one might feel while simultaneously grieving the loss of a lover and rejoicing at the arrival of their identical clone. It’s to Lee’s credit that this bravely frank play doesn’t skirt the big ideas behind how people interact and the sometimes desperate ways in which we love each other.
There’s really only one underdeveloped beat in the whole thing, when the surviving lover hides a plush baby toy from the newly incarnated clone. We are told that a period of only about five or six months have passed between the cloning procedure and the incarnation of the clone, which is not enough time to birth a baby who would be playing with toys. It’s certainly an interesting line of thought, but it reads more like a mistake, a holdover from a previous draft.
But then again For the Living is a play that’s all about mixing up versions, and for most part its crossing up of first and second chances is spellbinding.
For more information or to purchase a copy of Geek Theater visit: http://underwordspress.com/underwords_book/geek-theater/