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A CurtainUp Review
By Jenny Sandman
The Footage is a disturbing look at the weird and complicated relationships we have with new media. Every night at 2 am, a new video is anonymously uploaded to youtube, of a young woman (Lila1617) who's been kidnapped and is being tortured.
The videos create a sensation— of voyeurism. No one can decide if the videos are real or staged, and since there's no proof they're real, no one is outraged or worried. Soon the videos are getting 3 million hits a day, and a young man named Chance capitalizes on his own fascination with them to post them to his blog and share in the glory. His girlfriend anonymously posts her misgivings about the national obsession with the videos. Meanwhile, Chance's friends are obsessed with a multiple-player online role-playing game (Hellcraft—an obvious spoof of World of Warcraft), and two roommates in upstate New York pick up a hitchhiker. It soon turns out they have a connection to Lila1617, and to Chance.
Text messages, role-playing games, youtube, blogs— all the trappings of the modern age are woven seamlessly into the lives of the characters. If you're unfamiliar with vblogs or the term ROTFLMAO (text for rolling on the floor, laughing my ass off), you're unlikely to feel comfortable with the subject matter. Not that the subject matter is comfortable—the torture videos are deeply disturbing, and the ending is a fine example of modern moral bankruptcy masquerading as infotainment.
I won't spoil the plot and tell you whether the videos are real or fake, but I will say that ultimately the revelation doesn't affect the population's voyeurism one bit. There's no outrage at the torture content, only a twisted sort of celebrity worship.
Admittedly, I don't have the stomach for torture porn. I couldn't make it through one Saw, much less five. I still find it pointless to text a person in the same room with you, and my exposure to online role-playing games will always manifest itself in the memory of one hopelessly addicted ex-boyfriend, forever ruining them for me. But I still consider myself to be in the target demographic for this play—at least I know what all those things are. Which is why I was disappointed I wasn't more engaged by it.
Subject matter aside, the actors (The Flea's resident young acting company, The Bats) seem as adrift as their characters. No one is very focused. I understand the l why for the ack of an identifiable protagonist, but that still makes it hard to find an emotional connection to the story.
Director Claudia Zelevansky has made good use of the weirdly elongated downstairs Flea stage, but the tiny space feels overcrowded with movement and characters, much like the play itself. I liked the interweaving of video clips with the action, and admired how playwright Joshua Scher has woven together the various subplots. But each shift to another subplot, or video clip, or animated game-playing segment, takes us farther away from the heart of the story. Maybe that's the point —to illustrate the utter inability of these characters to deal with each other except through a technical fašade. But if I want to see people not interacting with each other (or only interacting through various hand-held devices), I can ride the subway.