When science fiction writers and filmmakers of 30 years ago imagined the future, they gave us the dark visions embodied in movies like “Blade Runner,” “Terminator” and “Mad Max.”
In these grim worlds, humankind teeters on the brink of extinction and must fight for survival against some kind of robotic, mutant or otherwise dehumanized foe.
It is a premise of “2010: Our Hideous Future: The Musical!” at the Griffen Theatre in Salem on Saturday night, that this future has in fact arrived — we just don’t recognize it.
“In ‘Terminator,’ they were battling Skynet. Our heroes are just on the run from Facebook,” said Carl Danielson, who wrote the play.
The play’s target is the “whole milieu” of social media and computer-based activity that has grown up since the 1980s, and which almost everyone now inhabits.
“We have fun making fun of the way technology has become so mundane that it seems normal,” Danielson said. “People put their life on Facebook without thinking about it.”
While this is humorous — “it’s funny to have things like Facebook used for evil,” Danielson said — the audience may appreciate that there is a serious side to his play.
“Ideally, I want people to laugh at the show and then leave the theater and think about it, and realize how dark it was. My favorite thing in the world,” he said, “is thoughtful laughter.”
Unreliable Narrator, Danielson’s company, was founded in 2008 and has staged “four major shows and four variety shows” since then. They also produce a Web series called “The Way of the Warrior-Bunny.”
“2010: Our Hideous Future: The Musical!” features a score with rock music by Andy Hicks, who writes music as a “one-man band” with the name The Pluto Tapes. Hicks works as an associate radio producer at WGBH.
The story features a heroine, Kate Brick, who resists technological forces known as the Artas, who control a dystopian future “where many humans have gone missing.”
“She’s a tough person trying to stand up for what she believes,” Danielson said. “In addition to Kate Brick, we have her on-again, off-again lover Dehnise. Dehnise is younger and more idealistic about technology.”
In a world now led by a super-computer named The MC, the characters must choose between relinquishing control of their lives to new technologies or resisting them in the name of humanistic values.
“We’re very interested in Kate’s sense of duty and revenge, versus love and openness in adapting to the future,” Danielson said.
It is in the nature of fringe theater — which is how Danielson classifies his production company — to focus on plot, character and big issues. These elements are often obscured or lost in the sense of spectacle created by productions with big budgets.
Much of the humor in fringe theater comes precisely from drawing attention to its contrast with mainstream, commercial sensibilities.
“We glorify low-budget theater-making,” Danielson said. “We enjoy being really ambitious with the limited means we have at our disposal.”
Cheap but well-chosen props are an important means of drawing attention to what’s different about fringe theater.
“There’s something right about making fun of an iPad, which I can barely operate, with props made of cardboard,” Danielson said. “There’s also something about finding the right props to represent technology that controls the world.”
The costumes, designed by Cara Chiaramonte, were chosen to suggest an earlier era of science fiction, while at the same time doing nothing to hide their origins in a thrift store.
“The costumes are perfect encapsulations of our indie/cyberpunk aesthetic,” Danielson said.
IF YOU GO
What: “2010: Our Hideous Future: The Musical!
When: Saturday, July 21, 8 p.m.
Where: Griffen Theatre, 7 Lynde St., Salem
More information: www.2010tour.net