‘Bravo 25’ presents interesting themes but overwhelms in its overambitiousness

Annika Constantino/Staff

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An artificially intelligent therapist is one of the main characters of “Bravo 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now.” It’s a unique and ambitious move to center a plot about human interaction on a nonhuman avatar — it’s attention-catching. The play as a whole is ambitious, yet possibly too much so — the artificially intelligent therapist is one of the seven main characters making up the plot — and the result is an overwhelming overload of information.

Written and performed by Eliza Gibson, “Bravo 25” is a one-woman show about a group therapy session. Six group members are led by Amber, the AI therapist, in an experiment to see if an artificially intelligent being can be efficiently utilized to mediate human feelings and discussions. Directed by David Ford, it is playing at The Marsh in San Francisco through Oct. 27.

While the play may be named for Amber, the real focus is on the six human characters, each participating in therapy for their own reasons. With Gibson playing all of them, the distinctions rely solely on how well she can portray each character uniquely. Gibson gives each character a different voice and changes her physicality to convey which character is speaking at different times. She even places names within dialogue to indicate which character will be coming next.

Yet despite Gibson’s best efforts, the characters are still hard to keep track of. They’re introduced practically all at once, and Gibson goes back and forth so quickly that they become hard to grasp. This leads to the audience being unable to connect with the characters. And in a character-driven story, this is more than problematic — it’s distracting and it’s overpowering.

The characters become more easily distinguishable the more time is spent with them. In such a short play, however, it takes the majority of the running time for the audience to get to this point. This is quite the shame, considering how interesting and complex the characters actually are. Once they are differentiated from each other, the ways in which they illuminate the themes come to light.

The play consists of interesting and compelling themes centering on the implications of group therapy. It explores the ways that grief, coping, and moving on differ from person to person. It explores the notion of humans needing to work through feelings before they can be understood. And it explores how interacting with other humans affects these ideas, all while examining how an artificially intelligent being could fit into the landscape of human emotion. On paper, this play introduces a lot of interesting elements that then get lost in performance.

With such complex and nuanced characters, one of the biggest takeaways from “Bravo 25” is the missed opportunity for a compelling ensemble piece. For a play revolving around human interaction, actually seeing humans interacting would have been incredibly effective. With one actor playing each role, each character would have gotten the time, attention and detail they deserved.

That all said, Gibson is incredibly talented in both her writing and her performing. Watching her portray each of the characters that she created really highlights this, when looked at independently from the play as a whole.

Her talent, however, is ultimately overshadowed by the overly ambitious nature of taking the play by herself. One-person shows can be especially impactful if the story is heightened by the notion of only one actor standing onstage. In the case of “Bravo 25,” nothing is gained by the sole presence of one actor; it is, instead, hindered by it. “Bravo 25” has a lot to offer — it just has to present itself in a way that the audience can digest.

“Bravo 25: Your A.I. Therapist Will See You Now” is playing at The Marsh in San Francisco through Oct. 27.

Nikki Munoz covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].