By Richard Manley
Directed by Eric Parness
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Fiction with themes of artificial intelligence and the manufacture and sale of androids is not a new genre. On that surface level, Richard Manley’s “The Truth Quotient” is not unique. What becomes unique is the play’s focus on the more subtle theme of motivation: the motivation of the manufacturer of the androids and the motivation of those who purchase the technology. Rachel, the company’s representative and omniscient concierge, reminds her customer and the protagonist of the play David that he needs to have faith in “our commitment to make you feel loved and wanted,” something David did not feel with his original set of parents or with his estranged brother Donald.
David’s first android Caprice gives him physical attention and affection. His upgraded model parents (his own abusive father and complicit mother had died years earlier) give David what he missed in childhood and adolescence: acceptance and understanding,
When David’s estranged brother shows up to make amends before he dies of incurable cancer, David’s new understanding of family is challenged. Donald ridicules David for loving robots and for assuming they can provide authentic love. But Rachel defends not only her company’s ability to provide “family” but defends David’s choice to be happy with his “new family.”
The importance of Manley’s script is not in providing revelatory information about artificial intelligence but about how that intelligence might become more desirable than human communication and affection. Manley’s well-conceived and well developed script is a trope (here an extended metaphor) for examining the existential meaning of family.
Given the misery that humanity has suffered individually and corporately, what would or should individuals do when offered a chance for happiness and a guaranteed escape from misery? David sees that Caprice and his Father and Mother are “too good to be true” and that with the availability of artificial intelligence “anything can be true.” The ensemble cast of “The Truth Quotient” successfully presents the possibility that what Donald sees as “the appearance of love” could in fact be love and could indeed be truth.
Manley’s vision of the future is a delicious matrix of moral ambiguity. What if the human family were nothing more than a set of “complex machines?” Prior to experiencing his new family, David avoided the truth of his misery by lying to himself. Donald almost tempted his brother back into the ancient value system (that incurable illness) that originally gave birth to David’s malaise. Rachel reminds everyone that loneliness is “pandemic in this country” and the choice to have a better life is as close as a contract for a new family of androids with dependable artificial intelligence. The power of the play lies in its ability to present to the audience an alternative to suffering and loss that might prove to be more possible than probable.