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Connected | Hot City Theatre

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connected comp_sqHer characters often are true to life, and might only err on the side of being caricatures of true-to-life.

 

 

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How many friends do you have? If you immediately rattled off the number on your Facebook account, you are probably not much out of the ordinary. Facebook with its friends, Twitter with its followers, and YouTube with its views have changed our attitudes about what it means to be popular these days. Add to that the massive amount of dating and relationships that now takes place on the web (Christian Mingle, OK Cupid, eHarmony, Match.com, etc.) and you have a society that has, for the most part, surrendered the tactile to the digital.

Connected, having its world premier at HotCity Theatre, addresses this and reveals what happens when that digital world collides with that of the flesh and bone. Befitting its subject, Lia Romeo's play is divided into four vignettes that tell tales of our connected world and their real-world ramifications. Though most of the characters are younger, Romeo does not spare the adults, to good effect. The play’s actors all perform several characters throughout the show.

The play starts with the story of Meghan (Caitlin Mickey), a high school junior who wants to go to the prom with a boy she has had a crush on for years. She chooses to follow the advice of a fashion magazine, and the results are captured on camera and broadcast to the world on YouTube. Meghan becomes a sensation, but for all the wrong reasons.

In the second story, two girls attend a party that they thought was going to be awesome, only to be met by the lone guest, played by Jack Dryden, a recent transplant whose ideas of friendship—true friendship—contrast heavily with theirs. One of the girls, played by Helene Estes, drips with the kind of confidence that only social networking can provide.

The third segment features a couple who meets in the world of online gaming and decides to see each other in the real world. This is a mistake, but it does lead to some soul searching by the girl who spends every evening playing the game.

Finally, the last segment was about a teacher (Cooper Shaw) who had been duped by two of her students on a dating site. Her racy exchanges with a purely imaginary boyfriend end up leaving her embarrassed, and a 16-year-old student both remorseful and a bit smitten.

All four of the pieces are brisk and funny, and offer some very smart writing on Romeo’s part. Her characters often are true to life, and might only err on the side of being caricatures of true-to-life. For example, the two girls attending the party are somewhat clichéd versions of the well-off and a bit too privileged St. Louis suburb dwellers (the play throws about the names of local neighborhoods and high schools, to varying degrees of hilarity). Romeo’s characters sometimes come off a little brittle, but this is a minor complaint, as this play shows a great deal of promise. If Connected sometimes tries a little too hard to hammer a point home, it often finds that sweet spot where the audience nods and says, “Yes, I’ve been there before.”

The acting was very strong from a very young cast, with all but Shaw in their teens or early twenties. I liked the staging, which had the feel of looking at a piece of media—the stage was encased in a box, and within the box was a round platform that rotated between scenes. The sections were divided by a screen, making for some shadow play. Chuck Harper’s direction of a very complex series of scenes was strong and worked to hold together the theme.

The play was commissioned by PNC Bank/Arts Alive St. Louis, and the theater is using social media as a way to promote the play. Several of the characters have Facebook pages, and the audience—as well as those thinking of attending the play—are encouraged to “friend” them as a way to develop their understanding of the characters. (The Facebook pages are listed below.) The Arts Alive grant is also sponsoring attendance by high school and college groups.

Of the four, the last segment was my favorite. The teacher’s interaction with the student offered a larger connection than the other three pieces. It was also the one that allowed the adults in for equal ridicule and growth. Despite the fact that the teacher was certainly the more adult of the two, her realization about her own needs (and her response to those needs) showed that we are all in the same boat. There was the conclusion that we are all lonely and looking for a connection. Social media seems to offer a shortcut out of that loneliness, but that path is littered with thin rewards.

Almost all of us have found ourselves drifting in the haze of the newly connected world. On Facebook we have friends we have never met in person. Some have had romances that were electric only in the sense that our iPhones needed to be charged from time to time. And far too many of us are enamored with small cats doing cute things. The question is are we being tricked into believing these things are real or are these things just our new reality? The Ray Bradbury future where we live and exist inside four morphing walls that streamline our emotions and answer our needs is fast approaching. Connected, while making us laugh at the foibles of its young characters, asks which reality we are going to grasp. | Jim Dunn

Connected plays through February 23, 2013, at the The Kranzberg Arts Center in St. Louis, 501 N. Grand in the Big Brothers Big Sisters Building. Tickets are available by calling the box office at 314-289-4063 or visiting HotCity Theatre’s website.

Character Facebook pages:

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