Set in the near future, Replica is Mickey Fisher's story of a woman with a terminal illness who agrees to undergo a procedure that captures her memories, mannerisms, and personality to create a “replica” of her so her children won’t be left without a mother. The sci-fi thriller, set for its world premiere this week at Stages Repertory Theatre, takes a deep dive into the question of what it means to be human.
For Stages Artistic Director Kenn McLaughlin, a self-professed sci-fi lover who was captivated by Fantastic Voyage as a kid and grew up on Lost in Space and Star Trek, Replica is like re-living his youth, albeit with a decidedly modern, Westworld-esque spin.
“This is about a real human struggle that takes place with events just outside of our imagination,” he says. “Mickey really gets to the core of the question about what actually makes something true. Is it true because you say it is, or is it the truth?”
Fisher has sci-fi cred himself. The television writer and producer is best known as the creator of space-centric CBS’ TV series Extant starring Halle Berry; his new series Reverie debuts on NBC May 30 and focuses on a virtual reality simulation.
“I’m obsessed with artificial intelligence, how you merge the brain with computers, I read Wired every day,” he says, “and there’s not a lot of sci-fi on stage.”
Replica began life as a project Fisher developed when his girlfriend, Julie Cardia, was in graduate school, and she wanted to do an on-stage project with her identical twin, Janna. (Julie and Janna will star in the show at Stages). Fisher, who had been kicking around the issues of what it means to be human in his television writing, gave her wish some thought and developed Replica from there. It had a workshop in 2014 at Cal State Fullerton. A few years later, Julie was working on a play in St. Louis when she met the director Seth Gordon. He directed a reading of Replica in 2016, then sent it to PlayPenn in Philadelphia for another reading.
“The play took a huge jump in Philadelphia,” says Fisher. “It really rounded out the story. Then Seth sent it to Stages, who amazingly enough said, 'Let’s do the world premiere.' I am super blessed.”
“World premieres are where the energy is,” McLaughlin says. “We get to see who’s coming online as a voice for the future of theater.”
“Doing a world premiere can be risky, but it’s also thrilling,” McLaughlin says. “In this case, we have a really accomplished writer, who really understands how theater works. I think people are going to really feel ‘this is a great play’ and not ‘this would be a great movie.’”
Fisher, a sci-fi fan like McLaughlin, said he found his voice in the genre.
“I wasn’t using my imagination before sci-fi,” he says. “I hadn’t taken that leap in writing things I wanted to see. Sci-fi was all the stuff that’s important to me: family, human connection. When I started weaving those themes into my writing, I really found my voice.”
For Fisher, sci-fi isn’t just about technology or far-off worlds or aliens. It’s about the real struggles we face as humans rushing head-on into the future.
“We are living in the sci-fi age,” he says. “We carry computers in our pockets. We’re connected to anyone and everyone, all the time. And there are complex ethical questions in all of that.”
McLaughlin says Replica tackles all those and more.
“It’s scary, it’s hysterically funny, it’s deeply complex in its thinking,” he says. “We fall in love with both of these characters—the mother and her clone—in this. There’s an enormous plot twist and, during the run-through, I literally gasped and moved out of my seat—and I knew it was coming! The power to surprise, that’s what is so, so good in this.”
Replica, May 23–June 10. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.