The short answer, given in this adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s eponymous novel, is yes. What this does, or should, mean to us, however, is a different question. Philip K. Dick’s questions about what it is to be human have not lost their urgency, and many of his devices (the mood manipulator, the empathy box) while perhaps amusing in their crude realizations, can be found in every household, briefcase and pocket. The quest for an end to a potentially all-annihilating war is not over, and one could easily replace the designation “android” with one like “Taliban” and find many who would prefer their confinement or annihilation. Rick Deckard (Alex Emanuel), a bounty hunter in a post-nuclear-war world, is faced with hunting down six androids, humanoid robots that are used as slaves on Mars but are forbidden to come to Earth. His pursuit of the six escaped androids leads him into a maze of moral and practical questions about the difference between humans and robots that can remember but not feel empathy, have sex without love, and might be more perfect in terms of beauty and intelligence than their creators. He is suspected by others to be an android himself, particularly due to his ability to kill with little empathy for his prey. In the end he escapes death and resumes life with his wife Iran (Uma Incrocci).
Edward Einhorn’s adaptation (he also directs) stays close to the novel, which is – as so often with adaptations – a blessing and a curse. The dramatic scenes are short but require long expositions to be comprehensible, making the play feel longer than its 90 minutes. The post-apocalyptic world Dick envisioned in 1968 becomes here a postmodern jumble of visual elements from the fifties (the pre-show film snippets of instructions of how to behave in a nuclear attack), music (by Henry Akona, performed live by Michael Midlarsky on cello and Moira Stone, soprano) that seems inspired by Schoenberg and Berg in its haunting dissonances, and costuming that suggests anything from current thrift shop to film noir detective outfits.
That this novel also served as the starting point for the iconic film Bladerunner makes Einhorn’s task no easier, and many lines of dialogue and scenes from Ridley Scott’s film ghosted in my mind while watching this play. But in the end, and particularly thanks to the strong acting by Alex Emanuel as Deckard, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep found its affecting conclusion, and the answer to the question in the title. The need to preserve life is strong, and even an electric sheep’s destruction can be painful. And while this, as one character in the play states, may be an egotistical emotional need, it feeds our hopes and dreams.