What if the takeover of artificial intelligence results in all people living with an intellectual disability? The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes, which opened at Canadian Stage‘s Berkeley Street Theatre on January 18, 2024, asks this question among others. This production from Australia’s Back to Back Theatre, which was written by Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, and Sonia Teuben, and directed by Bruce Gladwin, examines themes of human rights, sexual politics, and the impact of increased artificial intelligence.
This one-hour long play is set as a pseudo town hall meeting with three neurodivergent actors – Scott Price, Sarah Mainwaring, and Simon Laherty – performing the roles of the panelists. They discuss differences in cognition, what it means to be a person with a disability and how they are treated by democratic institutions and the public in general. An overhead screen displays the text of their dialogue.
The “panelists” introduce themselves: Sarah has a head injury and has a physical disability that impairs her movement; Scott has autism; and Simon has a physical disability. Since autism is one of the more misunderstood diagnoses, Scott declares that he is more intelligent than people think. Introducing the theme of AI, Scott asks Apple’s Siri a number of questions, which Siri answers easily. It is clear that Siri understands Scott better than most people, highlighting the increasing power of AI to anticipate human thought.
This play also turns on its head society’s accepted hierarchies of cognition, and instead promotes “neurodiversity”, which is defined by Oxford Languages as “the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population.” As Sarah states, “Normal people aren’t really normal.” Who is to say what’s normal, anyway? She argues that the term “neuro diverse” is preferred because it describes everyone.
The panel moves on to discuss the devastating treatment of neuro diverse people by corporations. As an example, Sarah highlights the deplorable working conditions for persons with disabilities at Amazon and Hasbro. This is indeed a shocking and saddening eye-opener.
There are some truly funny lines delivered, especially from Scott, but you could tell that many audience members were asking themselves: “Is it appropriate to laugh?” “Will it be perceived that I am laughing at their disability?” For example, when an unknowing Simon asks Scott about a land treaty acknowledgement, Scott barks, “Get an education…inform yourself!” The delivery is even more funny for its abrasiveness and bluntness. In another dialogue, Scott reminds Simon to keep it simple when talking to the audience: “Use simple words”. Several members of the audience, including me, laughed at this line because of its irony. Of course, he is repeating only what persons with disabilities have been told by others in authority…to keep language simple when talking to them.
Their discussion reveals universal truths. For instance, Sarah asks the others, “How can you presume to know what’s good for someone else?” I ask myself this all the time. How indeed can any one person be the judge of what is right for someone else?
The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes at Canadian Stage Berkeley Street Theatre is being performed until January 28, 2024. Tickets are $99 $84, $59 and $29 and can be purchased online or at the Box Office. Berkeley Street Theatre is located at 26 Berkeley Street.
You may be interested in reading, “The Lehman Trilogy at Canadian Stage: REVIEW“.