Academy Hall’s auditorium was packed with families and students alike Friday evening—the opening night to A Gray Matter. The lights dimmed to a pitch black and brightened upon a man in a cage, alone. He wore a black cap and hospital scrubs, and when he touched the cage, it shocked him and caused an alarm to sound. Surrounding him were unfeeling scientists; some poked and prodded at him, while others feared him, but all were fascinated with him. However instead of referring to him as “him,” they used “it.” The scientists varied in their awareness of the fact that in front of them was a living, feeling being, rather than a creature in a cage. Before the scientists stood CEBE-9, a clone with an exposed brain, intended for scientific research, and the solution to humanity’s problems. More exposition is provided when the scene shifts to the lab where we meet The Scientist, who is identical to CEBE-9, and he tells us of eight other clones, each with its own set of disadvantages. CEBE-8, the most recent of the clones, developed a talent for voice-mimicking and is the reason why The Scientist ordered CEBE-9’s mouth stitched closed. The Scientist goes on to explain that CEBE-8 was his masterpiece until it ran away, but now he finds new hope in CEBE-9, a perfect, identical copy of himself. A subtle debacle is heard through an intercom, and a Voice makes an order that The Scientist did not approve of. The first half of the play ends in a massacre in the lab, with a mystery figure gunning down all the scientists present.
The second half of the play opens on CEBE-9 once again, with the remaining scientists leaving CEBE-9 alone. From the fringes of the light, a hooded figure who speaks like the Voice appears and approaches CEBE-9, freeing him. He uncovers his hood and reveals his translucent cerebral “covering,” displaying his exposed brain. He announces that he is CEBE-8 and has killed the scientists in the lab. CEBE-9 dissuades CEBE-8 from killing the remaining scientists, insisting that the two of them could make a real positive difference using the facility. In the climax of the play, CEBE-9 addresses the remaining scientists. They refer to him as a monstrosity and a science experiment, and, in a fit of rage, CEBE-8 crashes upon the scene, killing a scientist and accidentally shooting CEBE-9 in the leg. CEBE-8 dies in the altercation when a scientist attacks him with a taser. Said scientist threatens to put CEBE-9 to death. A simple threatening advancement, he steals the gun from the scientist, pressing it to the scientist’s head. “If I’m the monster, then what does that make you?” are the scathing, bitter words CEBE-9 says after dialing 911 and shooting himself in the brain.
This brief play raises a straightforward question: what makes us human? When inquired as to what she intended the theme of this play to be, author and director Talina Bastille ’16 responded with “an exploration of ethics in science and what really makes somebody human…I think it is something that we won’t be able to truly identify for a long time.”
This Frankenstein-reminiscent play possesses nameless, “characterless” characters. Cursory interviews with The Players themselves resulted in a more in-depth understanding of what becoming such a character is like. “It was an incredible journey. Fun to work with. The characters – they don’t even have names – so it’s completely up to the discretion of the actor or the actress to define the character, and being able to do that was really all an actor or actress can ask for,” said Zach Spurrier ’19, who played the role of a scientist.
CEBE-8, probably the most dynamic role of the plot, was played by Denver Overend ’19. He talked about experiencing the traits of CEBE-8. “Basically, I took a really angsty teenager and just quantified that by a magnitude of 50,000. It’s like: ‘You don’t understand the hardships I’ve been through!’ But it’s technically for the good of humanity, so maybe the ends justify the means. But to [my character], you know, all the stuff [he’s] been through, it’s hard for [him] to see the big picture. CEBE-9 talks about that. He was going to help humanity, kind of be a martyr for the good of it. So I feel like it’s sort of a parent/child relationship. I just took the teenager aspect of it and made it more violent.”
Jeremy Feldman ’16, who played both The Scientist and CEBE-9, discussed the process of taking on two separate and conflicting roles in the production of this play. “It was definitely a lot of fun to play these two separate characters, because I got to play with a lot of different physicality. And I haven’t gotten to be just a straight-up jerk on stage in a while, and I’ve got to admit, it’s kind of fun to just play the jerk as The Scientist. Then it’s also nice to have that contrast with someone who’s a little more vulnerable, looks at the world with rose-tinted glasses only to have those rose-tinted glasses turned very dark at the end to the point where he can’t really see anything. Playing with those arcs is always fun, and it’s always a great challenge.”
The overall performances done by The Players were impressive, especially those of Overend and Feldman, the two leads. While the play clearly pinpointed right and wrong, it is still a controversy to define apathetic scientists as the absolutely evil ones. One could actually say that what has been done by the scientists is improving our standard of living and, therefore, is for the good of the world as a whole. The CEBEs could be considered innocents and their back-lashing a direct result of their mistreatment, but CEBE-8 killed nearly all the scientists. Vengeance may be his justification for murder, but his actions deem him equal with the scientists as far as morality is concerned. One of the favorable elements of this play is that no one is definitely good.