Theater Review: ‘SMART’ A Very Human AI Experience

by Emma Blankenship
Christina Farrell and Kea Trevett in SMART.  CAROL ROSEGG PHOTO Christina Farrell and Kea Trevett in SMART. CAROL ROSEGG PHOTO

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre opens its 40th season with Mary Hamilton’s “SMART,” directed by Jess Chayes. An enigmatic and moving play about the struggles of familial and romantic love and the ways technology can simultaneously complicate and simplify life, this show is truly one of a kind.

The play opens with a young woman, Elaine, caring for her mother, Ruth, following a stroke. To aid in Ruth’s care, Elaine purchases an AI named “Jenny” (voiced by Sasha Diamond) similar to an Alexa or Google Home. Jenny supports both Elaine and Ruth beautifully through this difficult time, doing a bit more than an AI is expected to thanks to the hard work of AI developer Gabby, who grows attached to the pair of women on the other side of the speaker. Tracing the relationships of these three women through some of the most difficult times of life, “SMART” will unnerve you as much as it will tug on your heartstrings.

This interesting plot is brought to life by a spectacular cast. With incredible skill, Christine Farrell portrays Ruth as an ailing woman struggling to maintain a sense of autonomy as her mind fails. Farrell is able to capture Ruth’s vulnerability, fear, frustration and confusion with an authenticity that cuts deep while still playing the role of a loving and accepting parent.

Kea Trevett delivers a spectacular performance as Elaine, exasperated by her mother but motivated by the devotion and love a daughter carries for the mother who raised her. Ranging from humorous to heartbreaking, Trevett brings the complexity and depth necessary for this role, harboring both a melancholic connection to the past and a mix of hope and dread for the future while managing the guilt associated with her complicated feelings towards her mother.

On their own, Farrell and Trevett are able to deliver remarkable performances, but it is seeing the two together that really connects audiences to the narrative. The love the characters feel for each other is palpable, the frustration obvious, and the connection undeniable.

Blair Barker plays the awkward, isolated and introverted Gabby, showcasing their ability as a performer. While Gabby’s actions are undeniably a bit creepy, Barker is able to humanize the character, portraying her as a wounded, lonely and loveable individual searching for human connection anywhere she can find it---even if it means violating someone’s privacy.

Scenic Design by Ant Ma is remarkable, with just one set simultaneously portraying a sparsely furnished gamer den and a cozy, cluttered apartment, filled to the brim with tchotchkes, crochet blankets, Amazon boxes, and dirty dishes. The set is one of the most remarkable components of the show, making the audience feel as though they are gazing directly into someone’s living room and watching their life unfold.

Costumes by Amy Sutton are understated, yet capture the identity of each character perfectly through the tiniest details; Elaine searching for comfort in her fluffy cardigans, Ruth attempting to preserve her dignity by getting fully dressed each day just to stay in the house, and Gabby’s hoodie and sweatpants, perfect for a serial internet surfer.

Christina Watanabe’s lighting design effectively transports the audience from the warm, familiar comfort of a dated living room to a cold and lonely apartment to the technological bridge between the two, allowing viewers to visualize the connectivity offered by AI and the pervasiveness of such technology. Similarly, the sound design by ien DeNio bridges the gap between the past and the technological advancements of the future, playing nostalgic ‘90s tunes — Lady Gaga — all while utilizing beeps, keyboard clicks, and so on to emphasize Jenny’s presence. All of these components are pulled together by Stage Manager Katie Scarlett Graves.

Running now until June 23, with performances Thursday-Sunday on the Julie Harris Stage, you will not want to miss this unique and moving performance.



At Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Route 6, Wellfleet

Through June 23

Information and reservations: 508-349-9428,