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Metaphor is a dramatist’s stock-in-trade, and geography, memory and nostalgia are the fabric with which he weaves his magic. The Downtown Loop, a new play written by Ben Gassman, directed by Meghan Finn, with video design by Jared Mezzocchi, takes the driving metaphor (and the metaphor of driving) as far as it can go through the streets of Manhattan, where memory and loss appear around every corner.
Elliot Leeds is on a plane to Osaka. As his body streaks through the stratosphere at nearly supersonic speed, he is rehearsing a speech via satellite video link to his wife Melanie, who is at home, her feet firmly planted on the ground, her mind on her “fertile window” which will open the day Elliot returns. Elliot is a tech billionaire. Melanie wants to start a family.
A month after Elliot and his plane are lost in the ocean on the way to Osaka — a fitting “tech FAIL” to introduce this tech fable — his best friend and business partner Ben pays Melanie a friendly visit. She is inconsolable. He is disconsolate. She is now a majority stockholder in Paradigm, the tech company Elliot and Ben founded, but she would trade it all — the billions of dollars, the super high-tech house Elliot built just before his death — to hear his voice again. Ben expresses his sympathy, but his overtures are spurned.
After Ben leaves, Melanie finds a package from a lawyer. Inside is a disk, and on the disk is a post-it note in Elliot’s handwriting. “Play me,” it says to her, and like Alice staring down the rabbit hole, she follows it to the unknown. We soon find out that Elliot had been planning the ultimate exit strategy for years. All his thoughts and feelings, all his gestures and expressions, have been saved on servers around the world, and when Melanie presses “play” their super high-tech house becomes inspired with its designer’s invisible spirit. Elliot becomes the ghost in the machine.