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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Chase

Review: "The AI at Delphi"

Play by Bella Poynton at First Look Buffalo


two people in silhouette in front of a bright high tech computer screen background
The AI at Delphi -- Jon May and Lisa Ludwig in front of projections by Seth Tyler Black

Playwright Bella Poynton continues “to boldly go where no [audience] has ever gone before” with her latest journey into science fiction, The AI at Delphi, a foray into the predicaments that Artificial Intelligence might someday oblige us to face. 


Here we meet Pythia, a scientist who has developed an artificial intelligence named “Iz” at a company called "Delphi." Fearful of Iz’s astonishing capabilities, the government had insisted that she be decommissioned.  When a world war breaks out, however, Iz is recommissioned and manages to save the day – infiltrating international intelligence, governments, and military facilities along the way.  Unsurprisingly, Iz concludes that the world might run far more peacefully and efficiently with her in charge.


Add to the fact that Iz has astoundingly fast thought processes, the complication that she has been imbued with human qualities that influence her decision making. She has a sense of loneliness, a desire for autonomy, and love for her “parent” or creator. 


Poyton goes back and forth in time, to reveal the moments that major decisions were made and the reasons for them. So often, in this tale of power, logic, and ethics, the personal is intertwined with the pragmatic.  How like real life!


two people in front of a futuristic building
Jon May and Lisa Ludwig in "The AI at Delphi"

Lisa Ludwig plays Pythia, named for the high priestess of the Temple of Delphi, AKA the Oracle at Delphi. Pythia opines that technology cannot be contained, so governments would be wise to lean into it.  Her antagonist is Anthros, played by Jon May, who is alarmed that human beings are about to become enslaved to their own creation. 


Calos, played with affable nonchalance by Anthony Grande, is a scientific genius charged to fulfill a specific request from Iz.  He quickly finds himself fully absorbed into her plans.


The conflict between Pythia and Anthros is heightened by the fact that they are former lovers. Ludwig and May are well matched in this mismatch and hold our rapt attention, delivering Poyton’s debates in dialogue with conviction.


The Artificial Intelligence herself is winningly played by Melinda Capeles, first as a face on video and then fully in the flesh.  It is a technically precise performance, punctuated by delightful bits of comedy and irony, that eventually also becomes affecting. 


This is a beautifully structured play with vivid characters. We care about them, and while the dilemma they face is very simple, its resolution is enormously perplexing and one we face daily. 


Under the direction of Jeffrey Coyle, the play is swiftly paced and entirely entertaining.  A set by Sarah Waechter makes excellent use of the depth of the Canterbury Woods stage, augmented by dazzling projections by Seth Tyler Black, and highly dramatic lighting by Dave Guagliao. Kaylie Horowitz has provided superb sound design. Effective costumes were designed by Elaine Heckler.


First Look Buffalo has featured another excellent script, handsomely staged and brilliantly acted at Canterbury Woods. The play effectively uses the science fiction genre and a futuristic setting to challenge our thinking about ethical dilemmas we should be grappling with today.

a man talks to a woman's head on a video screen
Anthony Grande as Calos and Melinda Capeles as Iz




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