Returning to Albert Joseph, a dystopian world premiere by the Satori Group, is less a story than a tone. It begins with urgent banging and yelling right below our feet, underneath the steep wooden risers the audience is sitting on. Andrea (LoraBeth Barr) rushes in, dragging a wounded Leo (Quinn Franzen), and pleads into a microphone for some unseen people to give them shelter: "You know me. Please. Let us in. I don't know how long we have."
Albert Joseph withholds more information than it gives, but we cobble together a rough sense of what's happening from Andrea's supplication: "I was at the gathering! I saw Panther die... You know I'd never turn. Ever. I will always fight... Just let us in." All she gets is silence, so she and Leo explain further with the help of flashbacks, which are the production's most technically elegant work. The barely conscious Leo resurrects himself to be the goofy guy who first showed up to the "gathering," then abruptly faints back into Andrea's arms when we zoom back to the present. Crisp lighting and sound design by Marnie Cummings and Evan Mosher also do a lot of heavy lifting to make these jump cuts distinctive.
Andrea is a flinty revolutionary, and Leo is a chipper, mostly clueless sweetheart who showed up at the "gathering" because "I was just hoping to care about a thing." But caring can be dangerous—a bunch of "statist" soldiers with guns and uniforms stormed the meeting, killed the speaker, and "cleaved" Leo's brain with a dementia-inducing weapon. Once he's been cleaved, Leo has long stretches of uncomprehending silence, bursts of lucidity, and moments when he's living through some earlier part of his life. Leo and Andrea run, hole up in an abandoned school—the West Newton Albert Joseph Institute for Elementary Learning—and have broken, expository conversations about themselves and the Big Brother–like state they're living in.