Story: Using social media as both a tool and a plot device, playwright Lia Romeo presents a quartet of tales, played out in one act and 90 minutes, which depict the values and vices of communicating with others through 21st century adaptations of the internet.
Highlights: Commissioned for HotCity Theatre through PNC Bank/Arts Alive, Romeo’s play takes a probing look at how the internet opens up wide avenues of potential communication while still failing to solve the eternal riddle of human loneliness. She populates her four vignettes with familiarly shallow teens, wistful adults and self-absorbed 20-somethings, all yearning for acceptance that can bring happiness with its realization or melancholy when it is unattainable.
Director Chuck Harper enlists a cadre of mostly youthful performers who bring both an edge and pathos to Romeo’s affecting situations in HotCity’s laudable world premiere effort.
Other Info: Romeo’s loose structure proves difficult to follow at times, even if each chapter is identified by a new numeral in the top right corner of the screen overlaying Mark Wilson’s rotating scenic design. That set cleverly uses a revolving platform that sets up quadrants of sorts where the action is played out by a combination of various performers.
Caitlin Mickey, e.g., impresses as a lonely teen who achieves notoriety by stripping in front of the boy she hopes will ask her to the prom. When his friend captures that moment on his cell phone camera, Meghan becomes an overnight YouTube sensation, quickly appearing on Good Morning America as well as a local TV show with a vapid, blonde host who is oblivious to Meghan’s torment.
Helene Estes amusingly plays the Valley Girl TV host. Cooper Shaw has a nice turn as Meghan’s sympathetic single mom and Jake Bucher delights as the painfully shy boy next door who tries to get her to ask him to the prom (‘cuz as a sophomore, he can’t ask her), while being pressured by Meghan’s gay brother Scott, played by Jack Dryden.
Dryden is the character of choice in another skit as Sam, a young man who has moved with his family to St. Louis from Michigan after the tragic death of his brother. Sam enjoys social media as well as two dippy girls, Shireen (Estes)and Sarah (Mickey), whom he meets at a party that is less than they had hoped, but he’s also wise enough to realize that it’s hard to top face-to-face communication.
In another vignette, Mark (played straightforwardly by Pete Winfrey) meets Sharon (Mickey) through their avatars in a fantasy war game. When he asks more about her and learns that she lives in the same city as does he, he coaxes her into meeting him at a bar. The opportunity for a happy connection, though, is anything but guaranteed as awkwardness intrudes upon their encounter.
Shaw is affecting in another bit, playing a single teacher who accepts a chat room invitation from a supposed kindred soul that in fact is the fabrication of two immature students at her school. Dryden does a good job conveying both the goofiness of one of the kids as well as his clumsy efforts to atone for their torments.
Some of the skits work better than others. All of them, though, convey Romeo’s central, and accurate, observation that modern technology is nothing more than a useful tool to help people navigate the treacherous waters of loneliness and melancholy that can capsize any and all of us as we sail along in the lifeboats of social ‘connections’ throughout our life’s journey.
Michael Sullivan’s lighting design accentuates the spirit of Romeo’s tales, while Zoe Sullivan mixes a good blend of contemporary tunes that speak to the angst of the youthful generation. Meg Brinkley’s props, such as a bag of comfort food pork rinds or those omnipresent smart phones, add to the atmosphere, and Scott Breihan’s costumes reflect the look and tone of teens.
HotCity even uses social media in its very clever intro to the show, coyly working in references to turning off electrical devices or how to send donations to the company. Ultimately, Harper’s keen sense of observation and commanding directorial style of his engaging cast combine to make Connected an engaging experience.
Group: HotCity Theatre
Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand
Dates: February 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23
Tickets: $20-$25, and FREE admission for students; contact 289-4063 or hotcitytheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Todd Studios