Theater and Performance Studies BA Projects

Abigail Henkin

Project Title: Satisfaction Guaranteed

Biographical Statement
Abigail is a playwright, a screenwriter, a director, and a Chicago native. She is majoring in Theater and Cinema and minoring in Spanish. She has worked at various theater and film companies, including the Court Theatre, Full Spectrum Features, Silk Mass, and Slated. Her own work frequently explores adaptation, investigates tensions between technology and the body, particularly for women, and satirizes social pressures. She loves science fiction, comedy, and challenging female characters.

Project Statement
Inspired by the short story by Isaac Asimov, “Satisfaction Guaranteed” explores the aftermath of a three-week experiment with a humanoid robot and a housewife that resulted in an unexpected kiss. Does Asimov’s First Law of Robotics—that a robot may not injure a human or through inaction allow a human to come to harm–justify it? Through interviews with the scientist who oversaw the experiment, both the robot and woman come to terms with what happened.

I initially began researching humanoid robots through the College Summer Institute in the Humanities, where we focused on questions of other minds. My research pursued both Turing Tests, which are designed as an evaluation of whether a machine is intelligent, and humanoid sex robots. While there is nothing currently as advanced as Tony, humanoid robots are being developed as sexual and emotional partners. They are being integrated with artificial intelligence in order to be able to hold conversations, although none have the emotional sensitivity as Tony. Most are immobile except for their heads, but it is not unimaginable that in the future some would be able to complete the kinds of house tasks that Tony does. This story explores how a robot that follows Asimov’s three laws can allow a woman to have greater insight about her own marriage, opening up questions about what our relationship with humanoid robots can and should look like as they become a reality.

This project also pursues questions of adaptation that I have explored throughout my time at UChicago. It looks at adaptation across medium, investigating the opportunities and constraints of the short story, theater, and film in presenting Claire and Tony’s story. It looks through adaptation across time, as I apply a 21st century feminist lens to a story that is set in the 1990s but was written in the 1950s, interrogating assumptions about gender relations and perceptions. And it looks at the constraints of producing art during COVID, as the limits of pandemic production led to the interview style that became the core of both the film and play. Telling this story in different ways allows more varied insights to its complex issues.