Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Review: The Reality of Cyber Connection

The evolution of technology has drastically altered how we, as a society, communicate and connect with others. Connection in the digital age has truly changed us. In Project Y Theatre Company's presentation of Connected, Lia Romeo captures the essence of the “like” generation through four intertwining stories.
photo by Hunter Canning
With the overall theme of human connection in the digital age, Connected is a play for today. Referencing and using common characters, Lia Romeo’s Connected begins with tale of Meghan who accidentally finds herself at the center of an embarrassing viral video and becomes an overnight celebrity. Meghan gets so big that Rachael Ray gets Justin Bieber to take her to prom.  Next follows a prom after party where Jill, a like obsessed social media whore, finds comfort in a kid who has disconnected himself from technology. But what happens when the sun rises and the booze is gone? Can this bond last? In the third story, we enter the world of RPG as Sharon creates a persona for herself and ends up meeting a fellow gamer in person. When their meeting doesn't go quite according to plan, Sharon is left questioning her entire identity. Finally, the world of online dating is put on blast as Ms. Haverill, a teacher looking for human connection, finds herself catfished by a student who discovers he too wants the same thing. But can a taboo relationship actually happen in this PC world? These short plays only touch upon this world of cyber connection and yet Lia Romeo has nailed it perfectly. Breaking the play into four movements allows the multiple arcs and ideas to come to fruition rather than jam-packing them into one solitary story. Romeo’s script is rich with possibility.  With such contemporary elements at her disposal, Romeo wasted no time in holding a mirror up to the audience, allowing them to see just how fascinating this world we’ve come to live in has become. With a central theme of cyber connection, many of Romeo’s characters have shades of loneliness in their arcs. No matter how many likes or hits or swipe rights you may receive, it’s possible to still feel alone without real human connection. And it’s been proven true in this play. The characters Romeo has crafted are strong, well-rounded, and relevant. She takes care of each major character, giving them just enough quirkiness to match their authenticity. These characters are real.
The perspectives Romeo embraces may resonate best with a specific demographic but that doesn’t mean doesn’t succeed. But where Connected seems to majorly miss the mark is through Michole Biancosino’s direction. Biancosino had the world at her fingertips with Romeo. With endless possibilities, Biancosino’s vision was clunky. Whether it be due to the layout of the space combined with scenic designer Matthew J. Fick’s geometric set, Biancosino’s guidance through the world needed some finessing. Mobility in a multi-location production is essential. Fick tried to make the scenic elements accessible to Biancosino’s company but sadly, her transitions were painful. In attempt to cover-up these transition, Biancosino incorporated occasional active character vignettes or video projections. Sadly, neither did their job to distract. With the placement of the projections so far up on the set, they were not the focal point. The other issue with Fick’s set was the string lights. While they looked great with the colorful pallet lighting designer Ben Hagen offered, being able to see the spare outlets on the Christmas lights was a big disappointment as they stuck out. It’s a minor woe but a woe nonetheless.
photo by Hunter Canning
Despite the issues on the design and production side, Connected featured a top-notch vivacious ensemble. Portraying an array of characters, this company defined cohesion. Perhaps the most transformative performance came from Ella Dershowitz. Dershowitz had a trio of characters to portray including a TV Host, a drunk party girl, and a homely gamer with a heart. If you had to take a second to remind yourself that the same actress was playing the drunk girl that passed out as well as Sharon, you’re not alone. Dershowitz has incredible range, shining brightly as Sharon. Her character was truthful, pulling on your heartstrings. Gus Birney embodies the vapid, social media addicted Jill. The potentially popular girl who’s phone is attached to her palm sounds like it’s over-the-top but Jills do exist. Birney was able to bring her to the stage. Throughout Jill’s journey you wanted her to find a change of heart but by the end and Jill remains the hollow soul she is, it all rings too true. The fact that Birney gave you hope for change is a mark of good performance. While Aria Shahghasemi’s Sam and Jarred were eerily similar in style, Shahghasemi’s Sam was a standout character. As the generational anomaly, Sam was the voice reason. The chemistry between Shahghasemi and Birney was some of the strongest on stage. Robby Clater and Thomas Muccioli took on the best bros of slightly nerdy Jeremy and gay boy Scott respectively. Both expressed the spectrum of teenage boyhood in different manners. And both worked. Watching Clater’s Jeremy crush on Meghan, played by Midori Francis, was endearing. Francis captured the pure shock and awe of an overnight viral sensation.
Despite some technical misfortunes, Connected is an exquisite look at humanity through a digital lens. Connected will leave you entertained and possibly questioning your own social media existence. I certainly was intrigued to disconnect from my social media platforms to find a real connection again.

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