Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nirbhaya: The Show That Made Me Angry for the Wrong Reasons

Nirbhaya is a "play" presented by women of India, full of anger and purpose, who are driven to tell their own stories of abuse and molestation because they will not remain silent any longer after the horrific incident of Jyoti Singh Pandey, who was gang raped on a New Delhi bus.  In a country where people keep silent too often, and abuse of children and women is rampant, it becomes a revolutionary act to speak of the horrors these women have personally suffered. 

Certainly it is an important subject matter.  But I'm finding it hard to talk about Nirbhaya as a piece of theater. I saw the work at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and my seething rage over it has not subsided in the last month.  I keep complaining about it to anyone who will listen (I'm running out of friends) so I have finally put words to "paper" to try and sort out what about this work did not work for me.

In the first instance, I went in to this play with the wrong context and the play did not correct my misapprehension.  I had no idea these performers were sharing their own personal tales.  It's a critical fact that would have been helpful to know especially since it would seem the main purpose of the work is to bear witness to these women speaking out.  The act of bravery and "theater" here is that these women, who personally stayed silent for a long time, are not staying silent any more.   And rather than have actors perform verbatim monologues or "act" out stories of other peoples' lives, these women are giving voice to their own personal stories.

I walked in assuming this was a piece of dramatic theater (possibly based on true incidents) and the way in which it was presented--with many theatrical flourishes did nothing to contextualize the material correctly.  A simple program handed out to the audience before the show would have done the trick or mention of this in the Edinburgh Fringe program also could have accomplished this. 

Beyond program notes, the theatrical presentation itself was misleading.  Bits of physical theater, dance, smoke, and dramatic lighting start to take away from the main message.  Dressing this piece up as "drama" made me quite angry.  Mainly because the dramatic aspects were the weakest parts.  Rather than supporting the monologues or stories, the dramatic gloss just distracted from the women's' voices.   

I think the piece would have been stronger had these women been able to just present their stories plainly, without unnecessary flair.  Using their names would have made it more personal.*  Ultimately the repetition of abuse started to feel less personal.  Perhaps the idea was that this is so commonplace and therefore the stories are meant to be more representative of the fate of many women in India (and elsewhere).  But I would have appreciated the personal being left in the personal narratives.

While the woman who was burned by kerosene by her husband spoke about her separation from her son and tears streamed down her scarred face, I felt that this piece of theater veered off dramatically into the exploitative.  Having the one male actor "act" as her son as she recounted the pain of the separation from her son was gratuitous.  There is no doubt survivors can gain strength from sharing their personal pain in certain venues.  But there is bearing witness and there is re-traumatizing.  I did not find this moment powerful.  I found it particularly cruel.  The scene may stay with me but not for the reasons I suspect director Yael Farber intended.  I mostly wanted to tell Farber to fuck off and let the crying woman leave the stage. 

After Yael Farber's terrific production of Mies Julie last year I had high hopes for a visually compelling and emotionally engaging production.  Ultimately Nirbhaya disappointed.  It did not communicate its important message with the right context and the theatrical methods employed cut against the key message.  Much like Roadkill (an important piece about human trafficking and sex trafficking) the personal narratives got lost in literal smoke and mirrors and somehow the goal of the work got lost in the artifice of the play.

*Without a program I have no way to identify performers by name or by "character" and thus I am left weakly describing them by their assaults or physical appearance. Again, a failure of the piece to communicate that these women are people not merely symbols.

Tree: The Crossroads

“People live all sorts of lives.”—Daniel Kitson

From a man in a tree looking down at the world as it passes him by, to a man on a romantic mission with nachos in tow, Daniel Kitson’s new play Tree is about relationships, commitment, honesty, fantasy, and heroism. What marks this play as a departure for monologuist Kitson is the fact that it’s a two-hander. Co-starring with Kitson is comedian and actor Tim Key. Kitson and Key act as comedic and dramatic foils to one another.

The production was staged in the round at Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester for several weeks in September is not expected to tour.* It’s too bad as it was a wonderful opportunity to watch two comic giants do battle with each other on a very unusual field.

Like many Kitson stories (at least those of late), hidden in his storytelling are a trail of bread crumbs for a theme which might turn your head upon the reveal. Tree requires a certain amount of focus and commitment on the part of the audience as the story unfolds with quiet simplicity, and you might think this is much ado about nothing, yet there is a sneaky undercurrent at play.

Tim* is late for a picnic with Sarah. He arrives under the shade of a tree flustered and swearing. He finds he is being watched by Daniel, who is sitting up the tree. And thus begins our story—well, two stories really. Daniel wants to hear about Sarah and this unexpected picnic under his tree. Tim wants to find out, “Why you up a tree, mate?”

Tim sheepishly tells a story of romantic heroism, 10 years in the making. Daniel offers up his tale of living in “this tree” and being a somewhat accidental tree hero which “was a message…for a while.”

Affection develops between these two men despite Tim’s initial resistance to Daniel’s story (which Daniel admits might sound far-fetched in parts). Daniel’s character mentions his love of “beginnings” and like a child with a new toy seems positively giddy to hear what Tim’s story about Sarah is.  They find a shared love of megaphones, foxes, and a need for meaning in their lives. There is a burgeoning mutual admiration. But perhaps it is something more—an understanding of each other that runs a bit deeper than the banter that comes about because “we’ve got some time to fill.”

And yet almost as quickly as Tim and Daniel connect, their relationship unravels. Tim challenges Daniel's life in the tree, arguing that life on the ground is where it is at--"Down is good. This is the stuff."  But Tim may have his own reasons for attacking Daniel's commitment.  Daniel makes an allusion to the fact that all relationships (whether with people or our principles) have consequences—as you choose one person, you reject others. 

And so Kitson explores the commitments we make in life, the meaning we search for, and the potential conflicts between those two endeavors. To do so he pushes the bounds of truth and fiction and the way in which stories are told.  If you saw Kitson's 2012 theatrical piece, As of 1.52pm, there will be familiar reverberations as Kitson continues to explore characters who go to extremes in their principles and what they endure because of their principled stand.

Tree is resplendent with quiet details, lovingly etched out. Kitson’s trademark vivid descriptions abound with the redhead in a yellow hat, shopping bags of haloumi cheese, and the exuberant joy of an expectant mother offering a feel of her baby’s kick.  I had forgotten how much I missed Kitson's storytelling voice after a year of seeing his stand-up. That voice has a distinctive cadence whether it is coming out of Kitson or Key's mouth. It takes me back to memories of my childhood and sitting rapt with attention at the feet of the local librarian during "story hour" eager to find out how the story ends.  For some reason Tree jogged these memories more than other Kitson story shows.  

Key is, as always, a delight with his mock frustration and outrage but he was surprising as the romantic hero. His small moments of romantic defeat were surprisingly touching. He brought a vulnerability that was new to me (having only seen his show Masterslut and his recent WIP where he seemed to play up his goofy and exaggerated "Lothario" qualities).

Flitting about the tree like an excitable, ADHD monkey, I wondered what to make of Daniel’s stage business as he remained largely obstructed by the leaves on the tree. But despite his physical concealment, he managed to project beyond his leafy cover his character’s beaming, heart-swelling joy and casual disappointment which masked a heavy heart.

But what did it all mean? So far I have pondered at least four possible interpretations of the play…some of which I want to be true and others I fear might be true. In one scenario, it could be quite a bitter pill to swallow.  Others offer more hope.  Perhaps Tree is a mirror (forgive the tired metaphor but it remains apt) and the meaning of the play changes depending on who is looking in the mirror. Or like Schrodinger’s cat, is Tree telling us the cat** is both alive and dead?  Are all the possible scenarios true even if they are paradoxical?  

At one point Daniel says, “You believe what you want, mate.”

And maybe I needed to believe "the cat" is alive. I wanted the mystery, the magic, and we write the stories of our expectations in our mind regardless of what the artists intend. Or maybe I am listening to too much Mike Daisey this week. I just want to believe.

* In a later email to his mailing list Kitson said they are trying to find a way to tour the piece. 
**No literal cats here. All metaphorical cats. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Machine: Mind Games

"You're too fragile.  You're too human."

There's a reason Stalin wanted everyone in Russia to learn to play chess--"it's the only game where luck isn't a factor."   Rather than the conflict of man vs. machine you would expect from Matt Charman's play about Gary Kasparov's famous chess match with IBM's computer Big Blue, the play is ultimately about two men, of similar temperament, who will not stop until they make a mark on the world.

Gary Kasparov (Hadley Fraser) has spent his entire life trying to become the world champion of chess. His mother (Francesca Annis) has pushed him towards that goal since his father died when he was a child. He has not disappointed, taking down the Russian chess establishment and the previous world champ Anatoly Karpov (Cornelius Booth). A voice of the changing Russia, he embraces glasnost and radical thinking. His mind, unlike those of his predecessors, is not trapped in the old ways of Russia.

Similarly, Feng-Hsiung Hsu (Kenneth Lee) is an immigrant from Taiwan who has left a world of rigid authoritarian thinking looking to embrace the free thinking world of the United States. His desire for innovation and creative solutions makes him a threat to his professors but proves inspiring to classmate Murray Campbell (Trevor White). Together they set off to create a fast "thinking" chess computer that could really perform on the world's stage.

Charman tries to balance both the political and personal aspects of this story but in the brisk moving play he ends up skimming the surface of both.  Charman's play subtlety explicates the struggles of immigrants and outsiders to a world that is fixed against them. Single-minded and driven, these men seem to have been put on earth to run a collision course at each other.  They are not there to destroy each other but to upend the systems in place, push their fields well beyond the bounds anyone has ever seen before, but to do that they have no choice but to defeat the other in a no-holds-barred way.   For the audience, it hard to not like both Kasparov and Hsu as they give everything over to this competition.  Charman keeps his focus on this conflict and sadly we know there can only be one winner.  

Even if you know the outcome, the journey there was mostly interesting (watching some chess scenes can be a little dull if you don't know anything about the game).

Josie Rourke's colorful (and at times overwrought) direction dials up this 100 minute play into a bit of a technological overload. With live camera feeds projecting on jumbotron-style screens above the action, elaborate choreographed sequences, and running chess commentary at times it can be hard to know where to look.  Frankly I've become disillusioned with projection as theater surface and I tried to stay fixed on the actors and only occasionally glance at the screens to get a sense of the visual style she was going for.  The performers here are very strong and on some level I found all the flash took away from them a bit.   But that said, I found the frenzied choreography on stage of computers and chess boards and people flying around worked to keep the energy up and communicate time shifts.

Many cast members juggled multiple roles and the wig department had their job cut out for them. In the end the story felt slightly more weighted in Hsu's direction. I felt that we learned more about his path to this competition. Kenneth Lee managed to make Hsu quite dynamic--which is not easy given that he spends most of his time in a computer lab fixated on something we cannot really see.  Hadley Fraser was convincing as Kasparov.  Bringing to the surface Kasparov's passion, Fraser gives us glimpses of Kasparov's desire for more from the world.  But that is tempered against his mother's fear of what that would mean for them.  The paranoia that creeps in with his small defeats is heart-breaking and Fraser carries that off nicely.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Tree: Reviews Wrap-Up

Daniel Kitson's two-hander with Tim Key is currently playing at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.  It is not scheduled to tour so most people will have to settle for reading reviews of it.

Here is my review wrap-up:

John Murphy for Exeunt said "the show abounds with flights of fancy and bursts of whimsy, interspersed with poetic one-liners."  "The piece explores themes which Kitson has explored before – loneliness, commitment, isolation and the need to seize opportunities as they arise – all are riffed upon here. Kitson’s writing celebrates the little heroic details of day-to-day life...."

Jonathan Brown of The Independent said "Whilst in many ways the entire show is a slow build-up to a single – and very funny - punchline, the joy of the performance comes in the carefully paced journey towards it. It is a loving and playful exploration of language and the way we use it to temper the absurdities and mini-dramas of our lives.""[Kitson] clearly takes his art seriously and his audience treats him with similar reverence. Tree is a perfectly-formed piece of writing and a beautifully realised performance by two outstanding artists."

My review of Tree: "Tree is resplendent with quiet details, lovingly etched out."  "Tree requires a certain amount of focus and commitment on the part of the audience as the story unfolds with quiet simplicity, and you might think this is much ado about nothing, yet there is a sneaky undercurrent at play."

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle: Remembrances

Karen Sheridan and Erica Murray in THE LIFE AND SORT OF DEATH OF ERIC ARGYLE, a 15th Oak production.  Photo by Lucy Nuzum

I was eager to check-out 15th Oak's award-winning show The Life and Sort of Death of Eric Argyle which was described as venturing "into Daniel Kitson territory."  Obviously, you can't sell a show as Daniel Kitson-esque and not expect me to show up. 

I can see where the comparison comes from.  Focused on the unexamined lives of ordinary people, with a tinge of the melancholy, Eric Argyle is a Kitson fledgling.  It looks like its shambolic, storyteller Dad (I assume its Mum is Irish) and shares many qualities with him, but it's in it's earliest of stages of growth.*  Written by Ross Dungan and directed by Dan Herd, Eric Argyle is winsome at times and noble in its storytelling efforts.  It is a promising introduction of the 15th Oak theatre company to New York audiences. 

Eric Argyle (David McEntegart), standing around in his pajamas, finds himself before a questioning audience.  Led by a strange moderator (Katie Lyons) an unexplained group recreates key scenes in his life.  Eric's not quite sure what is happening but he's pretty sure he's dead. We meet his abusive uncle Mr. Aldershot (Davey Kelleher), his best friend Craig (Manus Halligan), and his best friend's girl Gillian (Siobhán Cullen). We see how he meets the man who becomes his boss, Mr. Downey (again Manus Halligan).

At the same time Eric is bearing witness to a twisted version of "This is Your Life," Jessica Bolger (Karen Sheridan) is up late with her crying nephew and answers the door only to come across a postman with 5307 letters addressed to her house. Eventually these disparate tales will connect,
and one person's adventure will have meaning in someone else's life. But until these strands intersect again, we see Eric's small life unfold before us and the people who meant the most to him. We see the choices he made, his failures, and uncomfortably so does he. Reliving what are some of the most difficult of his life, he starts to fight against the authority in this afterlife.

As with any story that looks backward on a life, with perspective,there are pivotal moments you wish did not happen the way they did.  The show delves into this regret, memory, and loss and successfully
focuses on your heart strings.

It reminded me most of Pig Pen Theatre Company's The Old Man and The Moon which also involved a young, developing theater company which triples as storytellers, actors, and musicians and a tone that is quiet whimsy.  Here, the company reads to us from the story of Eric Argyle, doubles up on characters, acts out scenes, and plays several instruments as underscoring. Unlike Pig Pen which went a lot further with an inventive visual design involving shadow puppets, Eric Argyle is more modest in its approach.  The design aesthetic gently suggests the afterlife is like a jumbled antique shop--mismatched lamps, chairs, and sentimental objects.

Standouts among the performers were James Murphy as young Eric who grows from stuttering boy to creative and yet stifled man.  Erica Murray managed to play the young child, Imelda, with conviction and authenticity. Karen Sheridan, as the disgruntled Jessica, makes the most of her smaller role.

Erica Murray in THE LIFE AND SORT OF DEATH OF ERIC ARGYLE, a 15th Oak production. Photo by Lucy Nuzum
There's no question there are some lovely and heartbreaking moments in this show--these are mostly the scenes where Eric's life is recreated and he is forced, Ghost of Christmas Past style, to look on. But the storytelling device, where the cast passes the book around and reads us the story, does not have as much magic or power as it should for the mysterious world being created here.  It takes up a good portion of the show and it somehow remains didactic narration and not more vivid storytelling. The people doing the reading are not characters.  There is no struggle to read out the harder bits and no guidance or inflection to shape it otherwise.  Dan Herd's direction keeps the shifts in time clear but I wish the company had found a way to make the reading of the story as moving as the story being told.

*As a connoisseur of Kitson, I will assume the naming of a character as Hanratty is an homage to the Legend of Denby Dale as he tosses out that name from time to time in his casual asides and it is
a funny name.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Stand By for Tape Back-Up: Spontaneous Confabulation

"All that really happens is a depressed 33-year-old watches a video tape."--Ross Sutherland

Sutherland's self-deprecation is just another layer to his intricately structured and dense experimental work, Stand By for Tape Back-Up which played at the Forest Fringe in August.  He mixed spoken word, looping video, and an affinity for 80's movie and TV culture and created a personal, funny, and moving work that was complex, smart, and sometimes a little overwhelming (in the best possible way).

Sutherland looks at repetition and nostalgia and sets them in motion against depression and fear.   He recounted a story about his grandfather taking him to the movies when he was 4-years-old to see Ghostbusters.  He was terrified of the movie--being far too young for the humor and massively susceptible to the frights of scary ghosts--so his grandfather took him to see it every day for a week.  His grandfather's philosophy being, "Through repetition we can vanquish fear."
The remote control is like the size of the TV. Also how close is my brother to that TV. Very close.

His grandfather has since passed away and he inherited a videotape that he and his grandfather used to record their favorite TV shows to.  He uses this fragmented VHS tape as the backbone to the piece and as a structural device to riff off of.  And what did this talisman video tape contain: the opening credits of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, an episode of the game show Crystal Maze, the Thriller music video, and a Nat West advertisement.  The banal and the quotidian, in Sutherland's hands, become a moving diary of chapters of his life.

Looping scenes and clips from the video he'd tell stories and perform his poetry against this projected backdrop.  His words and gestures fall into sync with the video at times and yet as the same scenes would pass around again in the loop, he'd mine a new synchronous twist such that the meaning of the images or words would resonate differently with each pass. Whether gesturing in step with the Thriller video, interpreting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as taking place in the afterlife, or describing how a cat-scratch turned into a near-death experience, Sutherland manages to weave the funny, sad, and profound into cohesive chapters in the show.  

Layering and recontextualizing the found footage he builds up a whole new text on the most unexpected foundation.   The accessibility and familiarity of the video material belies the substantial structure, skill, and elegance of Sutherland's writing.  Distilling the separate parts would never express the brilliance that is the collective finished product. 

I do love a post-modern pastiche.  And no matter what I say about this work it will not do it justice.  As the deluge of images and words rushed past me, the experience of synchronicity and his connection to the past stayed with me.   

When Sutherland says, "I think I've worked out what I'm supposed to do here," trust me he has. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Edinburgh 2013: Wrap-Up

For ease of convenience I thought I would make a post that contains the links to all my reviews for Edinburgh 2013.

Forest Fringe
I Wish I Was Lonely
Stand by for Tape Back-Up

Northern Stage
Cape Wrath

Traverse Theatre

Long Live the Little Knife
Brand New Ancients
The Events

From Where I Am Standing


Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model


Purge: The Facebook Friend Reckoning

Brian Lobel has created a trilogy of performance art pieces called Mourning Glory* inspired by the unexpected death of a boyfriend.  He performed an adaptation of the second work in the series, Purge, at the Forest Fringe in Edinburgh.  It remains one of the strongest and most affecting pieces I saw during the week and the one that continues to linger in my mind as time has passed.
From Love Letters and Lehman Brothers by Brian Lobel

The original performance of Purge was a 6 hour event in 2011 where Brian would review all 1300+ of his Facebook friendships. He would defend the friendships for 60 seconds each.  He would only say things that were true.  A panel of audience members would vote on whether to keep or delete the friend. In advance of Purge, Lobel warned his friends in a form letter what was going to take place. He gave them options—preemptively unfriend him, set their profile to limited, or make a case for their friendship being kept and he would share that with the voting audience.

In this companion piece, we would get to vote to keep or delete friends but we would also get to hear the postscripts as to what happened during the original purge and what impact Purge had on these friendships in the intervening years. Audience members could also participate in their own mini-purge. Lobel offered his laptop and anyone could get up and delete a Facebook friend then and there. The screen was projected for the audience to see.  The man who stepped forward was scrolling down his Facebook page when someone in the audience recognized the name of UK theater critic Andrew Haydon and shouted out that he should be deleted (he was not; the man chose his sister-in-law!). This was another Forest Fringe piece where audience participation increased the intimacy of the work and made for self-reflection.

In the course of Purge, Lobel tells a bit about his relationship with his boyfriend Grant and the genesis of Purge.  Lobel had discovered that at some point in time Grant had unfriended Lobel on Friendster (when that was still a thing). Lobel and Grant had broken up at the time but that change in friend status and more importantly Grant's click to unfriend caused Lobel to wonder about what those simple adds or deletes mean.

As Lobel read out Facebook messages and emails from friends after they had found out about the project you hear how some people were desperate to be kept and this digital tie meant something to them, others thought the Facebook would not change their real life relationship with Lobel, some struggled with the public execution method being employed in the Purge, and some could not handle the project at all and preemptively deleted him.

From Or Else Your Friends Will Have To Do It by Brian Lobel
By participating in a faux purge, we could experience the weight of these decisions, without the actual consequences.  It was harrowing to think of these as people, with feelings, and the fate of this digital friendship was in our hands.  As an audience we were sometimes in sync and other times there were outliers who wanted to either to keep or delete. 

This was not just about ending relationships.  Lobel also asked for people who wanted to make a connection.  I spoke about a roommate I had lost touch with. Someone I adored. She happened to be a stripper (how else does one pay for NYU) and at some point she just disappeared.  I still search for her from time to time hoping to find her.  Another woman spoke of a friend of her ex-boyfriend’s who she really missed. She went before the room and tearily added him to her Facebook friends.

Maybe it was to be expected but Purge was very emotional.  Friendships, digital and IRL, are fragile creations.  The show left me thinking about how we come together and connect, how we sustain our relationships, and how we handle them ending.  Purge forced me to think about the first Facebook death I experienced--I still remember my friend's final status update and the strange memorial that his Facebook page became after he died.  Purge was so insidious because it takes such a regular activity and reframes it.  Bringing the audience into the work meant that much of the work's success is in that the audience is with Lobel every step of the way and is part of a conversation with him about their lives and these relationships. 

As social media becomes a major part of our lives it creates a new platform for connections to be made as well as a new ways for feelings to be hurt.**  All it takes is one click to add or delete.  Lobel’s piece really highlighted the real-world, emotional stakes and power in that click.

*There was a exhibit room about the other two pieces by Lobel and I was a little obsessed with both of them.  Or Else Your Friends Will Have To Do It is a project you participate in where you create your own playlist for your funeral.  Love Letters and Lehman Brothers involved Lobel cutting up the Lehman Brothers report that Grant was working on at the time of his death to recreate emails they had sent each other.  Lobel is definitely a fascinating artist and someone to keep an eye out for.  He is American but performs all over the world.  You can read more about him on his website.

**Unintentionally I ended up seeing this right after I Wish I Was Lonely and together they made for an interesting discussion of social media in our lives. 

We're Gonna Die: Voices of Comfort

Young Jean Lee finds an intersection between storytelling confessional and awkward rock star as she writes and stars in We're Gonna Die.

With a sailboat sweater worthy of Cliff Huxtable and a fretful stage presence, Young Jean Lee is full of unease. She's an everywoman who's poor at romance, left by boyfriends and loved ones. Supported by the band Future Wife, Young Jean Lee rocks out to tunes in the voices of her mother, her great grandmother, her friend, and herself.

As a meditation on the ways we find comfort when we are sad, lonely, or in pain, she uses repetitive music and phrases to remind us that we age, experience pain, and death. These are all parts of our
personhood.  And even in their obviousness there is comfort in hearing parents or friends take the time and care to remind us life isn't easy.

Perhaps the voices of those who love us making contact are all we need. Even if what they have to say is that life is hard, unfair, and filled with pain.  It is not in the substance but in the action.  Not
all of us come with a back-up rock band or engage in Monkees-style dance knowing our fate is death. But maybe we should.

We're all going to die so we might as well dance.

I Wish I Was Lonely: Distance and Connection

If someone came along and wiped your phone of all its information would you let them?

Furtive looks, sweaty, panicked hands clutching their technology lifelines, and then reassurance that in fact no one was going to wipe your phone of its information today.  But this was the beginning of a discussion about how our digital connectedness has consequences.  An informal, interactive show created by Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker, I Wish I Was Lonely, asked the question, what have we wrought with devices which keep us connected at all times? When there is no separation, can you ever actually miss someone? If you cannot miss someone, can you love them?

I Wish I Was Lonely was the first piece I saw at the Forest Fringe--a free festival of experimental works--and with the four pieces I saw it was a full day of conversation about connection.  

This was the rare show were you were supposed to keep your cell phone on.   As phones rang in the room, people were to answer them as if they normally would.  Initially, we were given someone in the room’s cellphone number. We were to call that person and leave a voicemail, explaining why we “needed” our phones. Ultimately, the piece was a meditation on how social media has permeated our lives and the omnipresence of these devices.  Have we created false closeness?  Have we stopped being alone?  Is this a problem?

Chris and Hannah told stories about how phones can deliver bad news or provide a lifeline.   Not all bad or all good, the show makes you conscious of being present, being distracted, being with people but interacting with your devices instead of the person sitting across from you.  Placing calls to the people in the room, audience members had to engage with the artists.  And we listened, feeling personally drawn into the conversation.

Later the room was rearranged and we sat in a large circle and passed messages around to each other, hearing the phrases speed along the room and get mixed up as they went. As the odd American, passing along the phrase, "Get out of Liverpool, you cunt" had perhaps a different feel on my tongue. 

I had seen a lot of what I started calling “micro-theater”—intentionally intimate works with a small scale goal—I Wish I Was Lonely wasn’t quite micro-theater since it had a loftier goal in mind and was dealing with epic themes, but I liked the intimacy of the approach. I thought the audience interaction was a critical component and an effective one at that.

After a week of sitting in darkened theaters, listening to stories (some good, some great, some painfully mediocre), I was not spending a lot of time with myself.  Distracted by the festival, running around to shows, hanging out with friends, and spending a lot of time thinking about theater I was in Edinburgh but I was not in Edinburgh with myself.  This show made me self-conscious of my habit of staying in touch with the other side of the world, especially when I am traveling solo. 

I once stepped off a 25+ hour flight to Thailand to see a friend who had been living there and was all ready to tell her all about the things going on in my life. She stopped me and said, "I know all this. I read your updates on Facebook."  Suddenly the physical distance between us was not relevant and yet it was.  I never felt less connected to her as I did in that moment. 

The artists in I Wish I was Lonely queried if we grab our phones to distract ourselves from boredom, loneliness, sadness, or pain are we actually feeling those emotions anymore.  Sometimes I think we are just time-shifting them.  Like jetlag, will emotional loneliness catch up with us like a wave when we cannot outrun it any longer.   Does that explain crying into large bowls of ice cream in front of the television at the end of the day? 

As part of I Wish I Was Lonely, we took two minutes to just look at the person across from us—an intense, uncomfortable experience.  I tried to stay focused on the person's eyes.  But out of self-consciousness I noticed my eyes fluttering--glancing at his ears, his forehead, his lips, his smile.  Staring into his eyes for two minutes was nearly impossible.  Can't we just sit with someone for two minutes and just be? 

Chris and Hannah then suggested we make a plan to meet that stranger—pick a time and a date and hopefully “tell us what happens.”  I hope I see David on January 1, 2015 at noon for a drink (or his daughter if he's not available).  We don’t have each others’ numbers. All we have is a plan. Of course as the show ended, David said, “I need to put that in my phone to remember it.”

I don’t trust my phone for things like this. I wrote mine down on paper.