Antisocial Media

8. November, 2012 Theater No comments

Facebook is the rabbit hole of the internet. If you’ve ever had an account (and most readers probably do), you have no doubt spent hours looking old acquaintances up, looking through their posted photos and little details of their lives, or just watched the feed scroll by of items posted by people you used to know in real life, or maybe even people you just felt like you ought to know.

Joel Roster and Rosie Hallett in Status Update. Photo by

Joel Roster and Rosie Hallett in Status Update. Photo by

So naturally, someone thought it would be a good idea to write a play about it. Probably a whole bunch of people thought that—social media is, after all, what they call a “trending topic” on, um, social media—but Los Angeles playwright Dorothy Fortenberry went ahead and did it. And by gum, Walnut Creek’s Center REP decided to give the resulting play with music, Status Update, its world premiere as part of its second-stage “Off Center” season on Lesher Center for the Arts’s intimate Knight Stage 3 Theatre, while the company’s production of Steve Martin’s The Underpants goes on directly overhead in the larger Margaret Lesher Theatre.

Status Update is more or less what you might expect from a play whose premise is essentially, ‘Hey, that Facebook—it’s crazy, right? What if someone just retreated into Facebook—like literally got sucked right into it?”  Young unmarried couple Annabel and Brian have recently moved to Phoenix, Arizona because Brian got an English professor job there. Brian is, or was, an aspiring writer, and Annabel used to be a photographer, but now she works from home working with Photoshop. Her specialty is altering the childhood pictures of transsexual and transgendered people to reflect the gender they should have been.

Mostly, though, Annabel does nothing at all, just surfing the internet all day. She doesn’t even bother to change her clothes anymore, lounging around unkempt in a sweatshirt and pajama bottoms. Clearly Annabel is depressed. She hates it in Arizona, she misses all her art-school friends, her parents recently split up, and she furiously resents her boyfriend for not backing up their computer files like she was supposed to, having recently lost her entire photography portfolio.

But we don’t know all that at first.  All we know is that Brian gently tries to coax her into putting on some clothes or at least prying herself away from the screen to be social, because they’re having some acquaintances over for dinner. But Annabel does nothing but glare and growl “Working!’ at him, hunched over her Macbook as she watches baby animal videos.

Michael Locher’s set for director Becca Wolff’s staging shows a modern Ikea-furnished apartment, with the whole back wall made up of bookshelves, many of the book spines covered in white paper to make space for Kerstin Larissa Hovland’s animated projections later in the play.

Rosie Hallett’s Annabel is a sullen, scowling pill first and foremost, and the character doesn’t exactly get any more sympathetic as you get to know her and her one note turns to two or three, but she’s at least amusing in her enthusiasm and fixation with all things internet even if she’s somewhat repellent as a protagonist. Ben Euphrat’s hapless Brian is gently coaxing, nervous and endearing dweeby, gushing about The Great Gatsby at every opportunity.

Enter Brian’s sophisticated Romanian colleague Zar, a women’s studies professor, and her Serbian “spice merchant” lover Niko. Annabel is convinced that Zar just wants to get into Brian’s pants, and she does her best to make the guests feel as unwelcome as they obviously are. The blasé Europeans, however, certainly notice but simply don’t care. Lynda DeVito is frankly seductive as Zar, in a slinky dress and sexy thigh-high boots (apt costumes by Michael A. Berg), and Darren Bridgett is amusingly intense as the jaded Niko.

But as I mentioned, this is a play with music, and that’s where Keyboard Cat comes in. Played by Joel Roster as a smarmy, leering lounge lizard, wearing silk bathrobes or other cheeseball gear over his furry pelt, he comes in from time to time to serenade Annabel with little ditties about the internet. Composed by Fortenberry’s husband Colin Wambsgans, who also serves and music director, the inane songs are truly dreadful in a way that has to be intentional—our faith in humanity holds up enough to believe that—but isn’t any easier to take for that. Played on a keytar with Casio backup rhythm at its tinniest, they’re on the level of public access television advertising jingles. The first song starts, “Facebook, a book of faces, takes you to a world of faces,” and a tune about blogs has the chorus “blog blog blog blog blog.” Sometimes other cast members will come in wearing kitty ears as his peppy backup singers if they’re not in that scene and have nothing better to do. The silly bouncing-in-place happy dance that Hallett does to these ditties is kind of adorable, though. There’s no choreographer credited, which again gives some glimmer of hope for the world.

The cat, of course, is also a stand-in for the Cheshire Cat, and there are all the expected lines lifted from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (“We’re all mad here,” et al.). When Annabel retreats into the Internet, it turns out to be an eerie Wonderland with projections of Facebook walls, thumbs-up “likes” and Nyan Cats everywhere, with Keyboard Cat distracting her with baby animal videos and generic political protests whenever she seems to waver in her new virtual life. Sound designer Matt Stines adds an unnerving touch with haunted-house giggling that echoes after people say things.

It’s not all bad, by any means. There are plenty of clever lines scattered through the play, and Zar and Niko are fun characters. DiVito and Bridgett also have amusing turns as Annabel’s chatty mother and jock ex-boyfriend, respectively, both of whom she runs into when she’s disappeared into the internet—a happenstance that the European visitors accept as nonchalantly as they do everything else. The gags about online life are mostly old-hat, but there are a few amusing glimmers of insight, particularly in the scene with the mom. It certainly has its moments and isn’t entirely a waste of time at a mere 70 minutes, but it doesn’t make much of a case for taking time off from wasting time on the internet to go out and see a show about wasting time on the internet instead.

Status Update
Through November 18
Center REPertory Company
Knight Stage 3 Theatre
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive
Walnut Creek, CA

Show #105 of 2012, attended November 4.



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