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A Guy and His Robot Can Be a Beautiful Thing

At Providence's Perishable Theatre, Tom Sgouros gets down to basics; it's him and his robot Judy. The result is fresh and, ahh, even Punchy.

At Providence's Perishable Theatre these days center stage is being held with considerable charm by a pile of nuts 'n' bolts and a guy with a banjo. Tom Sgouros's one (or is it two?) person show is called "Judy or What Is It Like To Be A Robot" and it's a delight. Perhaps the most delightful thing about this performance piece is that apart from the hardware there's nothing artificial about it.

As he ambles onstage almost absentmindedly Mr. Sgouros seems like a decent sort, a little too distracted by the details of the world that he's constructed for himself to be bothered by a little thing like self-consciousness before an audience. He's just the nice guy next store--who has happened to build a robot in his garage.

By contrast, Judy, the co-star Tom created, is bold and by her very nature brassy. Adorned with cables, wires and pulleys she seems like an armless dinosaur made from an erector set. Perched atop her tabletop the tiny robot hunches over like Groucho Marx as she harangues her creator with endless questions on the nature of existence. She makes for a nice comic and, yes, aluminum foil for Mr. Sgouros. Man and machine share a nice rapport onstage too- a little like automaton and Costello.

You'll notice that I keep referring to "Judy" as "she", as if the robot was a real person. That's the beauty of this show--how easily we buy into the concept. Mr. Sgouros is so genuine onstage that we're happy to believe that he has a talking robot as a pal. Heck, he even shows us slides of Judy with his kids. The fact that Judy possesses the dulcet tones of Actress Marilyn Dubois doesn't hurt of course, but there's a humanity that shapes the ends of Mr. Sgouros's machine as well as his show. And that's what makes this more than a high-tech ventriloquist act.

By necessity dialogue onstage with a robot is a construct but it never seems so even as we're aware that we're being cleverly manipulated. Instead we're engaged, intrigued and even a little charmed as the two debate the great questions of our times.

That sounds terribly profound; but Sgouros and his mechanical partner are wise enough not to take themselves too seriously. Instead the pair gently tweak their metaphysical speculations. What's the difference between computation and cognition? What's the nature of our own programming that allows for self-awareness? Even if no answers are really provided it's enough that the questions that Judy posits are valid for us all. "What is it like to be alive?" is a conundrum that has stymied poets and philosophers alike and Mr. Sgouros has fun with the idea simply by raising the question and letting it meander through the audience's consciousness.

At times it seems as if the clever ruminations are just running around the track in endless circles searching for a conclusion. Sgouros is too much of an unassuming soul to assume to know all of the answers and that's not necessarily a bad thing. He and Judy do know the right questions however and we all have a good time together while they ask. Their gentle good humor is infectious-somewhat like a computer virus.

Clocking in at just over an hour the show is just long enough to raise a smile and a thought or two while remaining succinct enough not to be self-indulgent. A clever plot twist at the end reveals not only what a funny and gifted mime Mr. Sgouros is but draws a conclusion that many a modern monologist might learn from. Ultimately, as both Tom and Judy discover, it's not all about me.

"Judy or What Is It Like To Be A Robot" runs through Nov 23 at Perishable Theatre 95 Empire Street, Providence RI. Running time is 65 minutes. Now through November 23, Thursdays at 7:00, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00, Sundays at 3:00. Tickets are $15.00, students and seniors $10.00 and can be purchased at or by calling 401-621-6123.20