Art Catch Extra: Continuous City

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11/20/2008 1:15 PM |

In her weekly (sometimes bi-weekly!) column Art Catch, The L‘s Patricia Milder tells you which art exhibits and theatrical productions are worth visually stalking. Mark Zuckerberg, this one’s for you.

Maybe the fact that I’m the only person I know who isn’t on Facebook and doesn’t video chat makes me, individually, the wrong target audience for Continuous City. But I don’t know, you tell me – do people actually think this kind of Internet communication (chatting, video dating, games, and so on) is a satisfying alternative to actual human contact? In my eyes the play’s conclusion seems overly obvious: we (as a society) are glued to the computer/internet/phone and that’s becoming a pretty fucked up way to live.

This could be a rich, relevant topic, but unfortunately the Builders
Association seems to be almost singularly focused on choreographing
multiple video screens and overlapping interactions between onstage
actors and onscreen actors to mimic and exaggerate everyday mediated
interactions. The story itself gets lost irretrievably in a labyrinth
of multi-sized screens and mediocre acting, and the result – even with
its up to the moment references – comes off as dated, even boring. This
play sets up an extreme version of what is happening, or what will
happen, as our interactions become more and more removed through
electronics, especially because of global travel and immigration.
Reality gets blurry, relationships become unclear, and even those
closest in proximity evolve into strangers who cannot be faced without
the help of a mediating device.

In what was supposed to represent one of the most depressing moments in
the story, a young girl refuses to respond to a nanny in person, and
the nanny resorts to texting her "milk or juice?" to get an answer.
First of all, juice. Of course. And second, before cell phones (in the
mid 90s) when we were both kids, I would call my sister from separate
landlines in the same house. Before landlines, I’m sure that notes were
sometimes passed when words could have been spoken. I’m conflicted as
to whether texting, combined with the fickle and distancing attitudes
of children, really amounts to much of a tragedy. In any event, this
incident definitely isn’t as profound and illuminating about the nature
of humanity as it is made out to be.

The girl with the juice is upset because her father, a present day
Internet social networking entrepreneur, is traveling the globe to
promote Xubu – "get used to saying that name" – the new international
video Facebook. He calls her and they v-chat about the mundane things a
father talks to a young daughter about. These calls alternate with his
international reports – New York (or Vegas?), Paris (or Vegas?), China
(really is China) and a lot of airports – to a Xubu business partner.
His partner is a douchey man with an Internet dating addiction and a
proclivity toward wooing unattractive women. Meeting in person, he
tells one of them, would be just too much pressure and way too much of
a commitment. Although the man with the daughter eventually becomes
disillusioned by Xubu, realizes the emptiness of life on the road and
the irreplaceability of his real life daughter, it may be too late. She
may be too busy video blogging to notice him.

Five minutes into Continuous City and I can’t imagine there is a person
in the place that doesn’t see the rest of the hour and a half coming.
But the idea of using live theater to critique Internet culture is
intriguing and could be successful if the strong visual and
intellectual juxtapositions are exploited. I do hope there continue to
be plays on the subject because although almost all attempts to capture
online chatting dialogue in the theater have been annoying, it’s surely
worth a few more tries.

Playing at BAM Harvey Theatre, 651 Fulton St, closes November 22