BWW Reviews: @THE_MOMENT Comically Captures Life in 2011
The set for Salt Luck Arts' five-act "@The_Moment: #5shortplaysonlifein2011" is simple to begin with and gets no more complicated as the performance progresses. This is a plus, since the stage is small and the ensemble cast's acting is good enough-very good enough, actually-to require little in terms of props or scenery to convey the theme coursing through the five one-act shorts: the idiosyncrasies of our very-connected-yet-somehow-not-connected-at-all life in the '10s.
"If you've got your smart phone or even your dumb one," says the voice that opens the production, "please stash it now. We promise your Angry Birds will be waiting when you get back."
And appropriately, act one, "Con-Text" by Annelise Montone, one of four local playwrights who contributed to the production, digs right into the pesky problems of texting. Just what is the message behind the text message, it wonders, as the phones-played by Debbie Jennys and Amy Greco Smith-of a young couple develop a relationship of their own while the human pair flirt, fight, break up and subsequently attempt a reconciliation.
High-energy, highly expressive Jennys and Greco Smith outshine their "human" counterparts in this act, but the story of the rise and fall of the couple's relationship from this technological perspective is endearing and highly successful.
The second act, Rosemary Frisino Toohey's "Agnes's Little War," focuses on the other end of the generational spectrum: a woman who's lost her husband and relies not on search engines but on a toy Magic 8 Ball to provide her with answers. "My nephew couldn't thank me for his graduation gift because I'm not [air quotes] online," Agnes says when a stranger stops by to chat.
Turns out the stranger, played by Dan Collins, is a lawyer for a presidential candidate come to convince Agnes, played by Janise Whelan, to stop sending scathing letters to the candidate while copying major media outlets. When Agnes refuses, the lawyer turns to revealing the true power of today's prolific communication technology: its ability to sway public opinion. Both Collins and Whelan are believable, engaging and entertaining-and their onstage dynamic is fluid and, simply, enjoyable to watch.
Unfortunately, the third and fourth acts-Brent Englar's "Unclassified" and Kevin Kostic's "One Out of Five"-slide the production slightly downhill. "Unclassified" explores a robot's attempt at revenge against a couple of federal agents tasked with destroying classified documents, but the action is redundant and tedious, and the conclusion makes little sense; it is also unclear how this relates to life in 2011. "One Out of Five" has a strong concept-a lesbian couple's first night at home with their new quintuplets degenerates quickly as the two try to determine how many of their children will have various social and medical issues based on statistics they read-but the scene comes off melodramatic and overacted in the way a middle school production can.
The final act, Montone's "140 Characters," saves the show if it doesn't outright steal it. It brings most of Salt Luck Arts' ensemble cast together to "perform" 140 Tweets taken from Twitter's public feed. A bright-red chair on a raised platform is Twitter to the actors' Tweets-the vehicle through which they present their short philosophies-and the outcome is stellar. Using simple, clever props, the eight actors let loose, instilling the scene with expressiveness and energy. The result is a personification of Tweets that makes Americans' fascination with bearing their souls to an unknown Internet audience a joyous, endearing and hilarious undertaking. If only Twitter could capitalize on the actors' verve.
Montone's selection of Tweets should be lauded; she nabs a good variety of neuroses and also touches on such banal but highly relatable subjects as workplace complaints, coffee addiction, common ailments and subsequent self-medication, self-esteem, sexual orientation, celebrity idolization and more. "You know my name, not my story," reads one Tweet, delivered by a perfectly on-point and very funny Rob Vary.
And that just may be the problem with #lifein2011.
Salt Luck Arts is a newcomer to Baltimore's theater scene, having formed in June 2010. With such a strong start to its 2011-12 season, it is a theater company to keep an eye on. For more information, visit www.saltluckarts.wordpress.com.
Photos courtesy of Salt Luck Arts.