Do you recall the first time an acquaintance handed you a cellphone, showing you a selfie in which he or she was posed with some celebrity you’d never heard of? How about that time your friends went to a cool new restaurant and posted pictures of their breakfast platters on social media?
More pointedly, do you remember when you were the one passing around your selfie-stuffed phone or posting that portrait of your Eggs Florentine?
In any case, you might find it illuminating to see The Bridge Production Group’s new offering, the U.S. premiere of See You, with text by Québécois
playwright Guillaume Corbeil and direction by Bridge’s artistic director, Max Hunter. Corbeil’s sometimes scathing (and frequently funny) script (English translation by Steven McCarthy) examines the ways in which social media and other digital phenomena have transformed our behavior—making us feel the need to record our lives and exhibit them on a platform for the world to see, often in excruciating detail.
At the New Ohio Theatre, Hunter has staged much of the action on a literal platform, positioned within a larger playing area and surrounded by seating on three sides (scenic designer Seth Byrum fashioned this commodious set). At the top of the show, five performers—Hamish Allan-Headley, Crawford M. Collins, Adriane Moreno, Charlie Reid and Christina Toth—gather in a circle, introducing themselves to one another rather shyly and self-consciously. They begin by sharing vital statistics: sex, date of birth, hair and eye color, relationship status (all are single). We intuit that this meeting may actually be occurring in cyberspace, perhaps in some sort of chatroom.
Before long, the five fresh acquaintances are showing off. They declare to one another their favorite books, movies, plays and musicians—their enthusiasm crescendoing into a one-upsmanship marathon. After Allan-Headley’s character announces, “I read A Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez,” Reid’s chimes in, announcing that he’s read two other titles by that author. He twice trills “Gabriel Garcia Marquez” with an over-fastidious Spanish pronunciation, hitting all the r’s just right.
Eventually, the characters meet in person and go out on the town together. But what we witness is the aftermath of the excursion, during which they share their countless selfies: displaying whom they schmoozed and drank with, whom they kissed and embraced. It’s sort of like watching people who travel the world primarily for the showy souvenirs they’ll bring back home from overpriced museum gift shops. As the show progresses, the characters share increasingly intimate as well as increasingly mundane moments. One memorializes a toenail infection, another an alarming bout of diarrhea. Once they’ve conceded that they, in fact, lead rather boring lives, the game seems to morph into a competition to determine who has the most banal existence (“Me scratching my ear.” “Me yanking out my nose hairs.”).
Then, as the show reaches its climax, we see the characters reveal some especially sordid moments, their adventures in vice and crime: “Me buying MDMA off the doorman.” “Me stealing the wallets from my friends while we are all drinking together.” It’s here that Corbeil’s satire becomes a little murky. Is he merely suggesting that people are now avidly broadcasting the dark sides of life that they would previously have concealed, or is he going further: implying that social media itself is dragging people into depravity?
This production is a rambunctious enterprise, and Hunter and his cast do a reasonably good job of keeping dialogue that’s made up largely of long strings of short declarative sentences (or sentence fragments) from seeming dreadfully monotonous. The actors slow down at moments, then quicken the pace, their spat lines overlapping. Some of them leave the platform in order to play in the adjacent areas for a spell. Some bring furniture onto the platform, arrange it and later reconfigure and remove it. The ensemble members work well together, and each has some fine moments. The gruff-voiced Allan-Headley, the flamboyant Reid and the lost-lamb Toth are especially memorable.
The production is enhanced with first-rate design elements. Lighting and projection designer Cheyenne Sykes has trimmed the central platform with a strip of light (a piping-like effect we seem to be seeing often on stages these days) and has created an overhead grid of lights in a similar configuration. The result is a rectangular cell, perhaps meant to suggest a chunky, oversized smartphone. Nicolle Allen’s costumes—mostly casual, some on the funky side—help to define the characters. Toth’s clothes, for instance, seem considerably more fashion-forward than, say, Collins’s.
See You certainly presents its observations in a clever way. That the show’s content is unrelentingly repetitive is actually central to the whole point Guillaume is making—although that doesn’t always make it easy to digest. Some viewers will likely find the material exhaustingly over-the-top, but Corbeil and Hunter have mitigated this problem to some degree by keeping the show swift-moving (at 75 minutes) and intermission-free.
See You (through September 21, 2019)
The Bridge Production Group
The New Ohio Theatre, 154 Christopher Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, visit http://www.bridgeproductiongroup.org
Running time: 75 minutes without an intermission