Stories about dystopian societies often risk seeming contrived, but playwright Tania Wisbar's beautifully detailed and elegiac tale depicts a world that might believably exist, say, 100 years after a Nazi takeover.

In the future, poverty and disease have been eliminated, but the world is instead organized on entirely practical lines, with your right to survive being decided by the number of "points" you earn every year.

On the 75th birthday of family matriarch Teresa (Salome Jens), her devoted daughter Marsha (Elyssa Davalos) thinks she has collected enough points from her two sisters and family to allow Teresa to live another year. More than just being the emotional center of her clan, Teresa is one of the last living rebels who recalls life before the odious new order came to pass. Marsha's hopes are threatened when unexpected complications up the fee for Teresa's right to life.

In director Jonathan Sanger's beautifully melancholy staging, what could be a mechanical exercise in high-concept plotting becomes a wistful tale of how easy it would be to purge memory of the past from the world. Sanger's smoothly executed production boasts many rich details: Set designer Kis Knekt's calculatedly sterile living room is replete with decorative video screens that show 1984esque messages from the genially sinister bureaucrat (Jeffrey Doornbos) who oversees the family's doings. Knekt's set, in conjunction with composer Karen Martin's eerie incidental music, crafts a world that's just plain crazy. The ensemble work is just as assured.

Apart from Jens' powerful turn as the ferociously nonconforming grandmother, Davalos' complex performance as Marsha is exceptional: Her character is seemingly an upbeat chirper, but her good mood is so clearly artificial, it seems as though she's always about to weep. Also engaging in supporting roles are Katrina Lenk, as Marsha's venomously selfish younger sister, and Demetrius Grosse, as a guilt-haunted security agent.

L.A. WEEKLY THEATER CRITICS Thursday, Mar 24 2011

A cult classic in the making.


This remarkable plays draws upon our past, with echoes of Kafka and Orwell, while offering a vivid, frightening glimpse of our future. But mostly it tells us about who we are today, citizens of a society where anything can become a commodity – even relationships, even time. The language is poetic, but it builds to a haunting and powerful finale. The Birthday Present 2050 makes us look at as simple a thing as a bouquet of flowers with renewed appreciation.

ERIK HANSEN Artist-in-Residence, University of New Orleans

Like the classics of dystopian literature–think Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, and more recently, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Birthday Present 2050 is a dystopian play by Tania Wisbar that takes a dark look at a disturbing contemporary trend and magnifies it under future totalitarian conditions.

The Birthday Present 2050 takes place in a society in which only people and things considered "productive" are assured existence; It posits a future society perfect and brutal, where citizens must choose each year between extending the life of an aging loved one, or accumulating more comfort for "the family" based on an earned point system. The story begs the reader– What would you choose? What makes it so unique and chilling is the entire play is set around the family dinner table, a quaint anachronism in the ordered, unsentimental future of 2050. And unlike its cousins in literature, the Birthday Present 2050 is a play–a distilled vision of a disturbing world that goes to the heart of what we value as humans.

KATHERINE M. STULBERG Former Director, San Luis Obispo County Arts Council

The play was great and the audiobook was awesome! If you like The Hunger Games you will really enjoy this. A more realistic view of what would take place.

I saw the play when it was performed in Los Angeles and loved it! I've been waiting for it to appear in book form and look forward to sharing it with friends who haven't been able to see it on the stage.

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