Review: Can You Hear Me Now? Touch Performance Art Presents SEARCHING FOR SIGNAL

By: Feb. 23, 2016

Identity and the search for it is a common thread that binds us. No other generation is currently battling with defining their own identity more than Millennials. It's ironic that the group of people on the front lines of electing the nation's first African-American president and fighting for social justice are also the same group of people who internally struggle with their self-worth behind closed doors.

Touch Performance Art is an innovative theatre company currently in residence at the American Repertory Theatre. It seems appropriate for the company's Co-Artistic Directors (Marissa Rae Roberts and Elizabeth McGuire) to tackle the hefty job of cracking into the inner psychosis of Millennials. Searching for Signal, their latest work to open at Oberon, is a colorful contemporary dance play aimed at better understanding the wants and needs of the nation's rising generation.

After an opening number that will be henceforth known as "The Cell Phone Tango," we meet Kat, played by Misha Shields. Kat is a talented artist struggling with her craft and failed relationships. Kat's best friend Margot (Melissa Geerlof) assumes a man could cheer her up and cajoles her into creating an online dating profile. The profile eventually leads her to a guy that stands her up, kicking Kat further into despair demonstrating that men are not always the answer.

A charming Rob Brinkmann plays another main character named Jack. Jack is an entrepreneur with a strong work ethic and good friends. Everything seems fine until he begins to feel the weight of the world as Sallie Mae comes a knockin'. When a prospective client walks away from the company he founded, he suffers a major loss. His business crumbles and the pile of student loans begins to suffocate him.

If this is beginning to feel like a rejected pilot for an HBO series, stay with me. Yes, the plot is thin, but Roberts and McGuire are more interested in telling a story being lived in some way, shape, or form by their target demographic in a different way. Searching for Signal is a visually rewarding look into the existential crisis's of Kat and Jack as they navigate the often unclear path of student loans, friendships, lewd social media messages, education, and parental objection.

The action continues when Kat stumbles across Jack's dating profile. The experience is nothing more than a skeptical swipe right: cold and emotionless. However, when Kat sees Jack on the subway days later, her reaction is completely different. The humm of the train and those around her dissolve away. A swell of the music comes to the forefront and Kat's misery melts away to reveal the thing inside of her trying to escape. Creativity. Kat moves through the subway car in a choreographed piece which expresses the exciting sensation of seeing someone in the flesh.

Jack faces his own existential identity crisis when the responsibilities of student loans deflate his confidence and becomes a cross to bear. (The cross is in the form of a large three dimensional metallic sphere.) His solo is arresting because the large weight is now an extension of him. Searching for Signal works best in these moments where dance and design (Alex Giorgetti, Justin Paice, and Jonathan Carr) are all working harmoniously. The slack is in the choppy dialogue scenes, but Roberts and McGuire's direction keeps the piece swiftly flowing throughout.

Searching for Signal addresses the overbearing expectations placed on young adults by society. The seemingly harmless question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" launches us, at any early age, into a never-ending quest to define "what" we are. As we grow older and are introduced to new technology, we become overwhelmed at the many ways to answer that question. The expectations in choosing a university, major, and significant other are suddenly not enough.

Smartly, Searching for Signal doesn't demonize any of the obstacles the two characters face. Instead, it explores them through unconventional ways to determine the importance they play in our lives. Both Kat and Jack conclude that everything has a place, but the decision on where they go and the seriousness of them is in the hands of them only. Success is found when they stop worrying "What am I?" and start focusing on "Who am I?"

Searching for Signal plays at the Oberon February 25th, 26th, March 3rd, and 4th. Visit their website for tickets and information. Photography by Evgenia Eliseeva.

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