You probably know that Karel Čapek's 1920 Czech play R.U.R. gave the world the word "robot." It's what the second "R" stands for -- the long version of the title is "Rossum's Universal Robots." And for nearly a hundred years, the play has been considered a classic, translated into every major language on the face of the planet.
I set out to adapt R.U.R. because it seemed to me a pity there have been so few modern productions of this history-making play. It seemed to me that theatres of today have avoided the original work due to its expressionist style, to characters that seem to us now to be "two-dimensional." And many producers and directors are further distanced from the work by the awkwardly-formal language of the most literal English translations.
What if, I wondered, there was an adaptation of Čapek's masterpiece that brought the play's characters and language into a modern vernacular?
So I wrote one. And I've tried to be as faithful as possible to Karel Čapek's intentions while updating the details of the ethical issues raised. And above all, I've approached the story as a more realistic piece of science fiction with more fully-rounded characters.
This new adaptation was first produced at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, with a rotating set, video projections, and a score of original electronic music. The production was enthusiastically praised by critics and audience alike. Much of the success of the first production was due to the original music and sound effects by Dr. Michael Angell, the scenery and lighting designed by Kelly Allison, and the costumes designed by Kimberly Schnormeier.
Since then the adaptation has been performed far and wide, with new productions added all the time. In 2013 the show ran off-Broadway thanks to the Resonance Ensemble directed by the great Valentina Fratti.
First I have one more question for you, if you don't mind.
Good -- I have one for you too.
I am almost afraid to ask this, but something about the way Hallemeier spoke to Sulla just now ... does the human appearance of the G2 robots extend to -- well --
Yes, they have working sex organs.
And the females are all as attractive as Sulla, I imagine. Whose idea was that?
I honestly don't remember, but I doubt any of us objected.
Have you considered that perhaps you've all been on this island too long?
All the jokes that can be made about this have already been made. Believe me. And you're not thinking this out all the way. Remember all the dangerous and degrading professions we've already done away with by replacing human workers with robots. Coal mining. Firefighting. Sewer maintenance! Right? Robots with lifelike sexual response could mean -- well, what if no human being was ever again tempted -- or forced -- to sell their bodies, to rent themselves out for the sake of somebody's else's ... it's what the R.U.R mission has always been and will always be: to build a world in which no human being is ever again treated as a -- a thing, an object!
And will you sell them to the armies of the world? I'm sure they would be the perfect soldiers --
-- intelligent, strong, and blindly obedient?
No. That we will not do. We'll call them "Universal" robots, but there will in fact be one thing they will not do. They will not be allowed to kill. They'll serve us, they'll care for our sick, they'll do our most dangerous jobs for us ... but they will never hurt us. Any of us. And who knows? Maybe as the years go by, we'll learn from them ....