Paper City Phoenix - 4 stars
Review by Claudia A. Fox Tree
When the answer to "Am I popular?" is "Are you getting a lot of comments?" then you know this is about the Internet and not reality. Or, is it reality after all? Paper City Phoenix by Walt McGough, directed by Melanie Garber, and now playing at Boston Playwrights' Theatre, explores where reality and Internet meet.
How do you know you know someone? Is a relationship on the Internet "real"? This clever, contemporary - even edgy - comedy brings up meaningful questions, which are addressed through interesting characters played by a cast of only six actors. Brenna, portrayed by Caroline L Price, is longing for Paul, played by Michael Fisher, who has "disappeared" from their Internet relationship. After all, they "talked every day for two months, not face to face, or about anything that mattered," but often enough that she considered them an item, even if he didn't.
Danielle Lucas plays Paul's sister, Gale, who is also searching for her brother. She is retracing his Internet profiles and activities. What would happen if the World Wide Web suddenly stopped working? Where would humanity be without paper versions of photographs, research, and electronic encyclopedias? Maybe someone should print the Internet, starting with "A." But wait, "A" includes "anarchist," "Al Qaeda," and "Artillery" and might draw the FBI to your home for "suspicious searches on Google." Lucas's character falls into the proverbial "rabbit hole" looking for Paul. She believes she is crazy, until she meets Brenna, who has had an accident and now can recite Hitler's family tree and many other irrelevant facts. The conversations between the two kept me laughing out loud as the short, snappy scenes moved the story so quickly that it was all over too fast, in just two hours, including intermission.
David Frank plays Sal, the monkish leader of an order, some might call a "cult," which eschews any technology post 1980. There is some 80's music during the scene transition and nods to the rotary phone which kept a smile on my face. Sal professes, "Man was not meant to carry life in his pocket, but to feel the weight of the world upon him." Fisher's character, Paul, has sequestered himself in this anti-technology organization to deal with his electronic addiction and lack of connection with the world. This play begs the deep questions, such as; does the Internet create or destroy human connections? Paul has a relationship with both Brenna and Gale, but which is "real"?
Anthony Rios and Monica Shea play Monroe and Sykes, the police who patrol web activity. These "good cop/bad cop" characters transform into real, live cop and human embodied Internet as the play progresses and the Internet collapses. They are quite funny and Shea's portrayal of the Internet is unique, as she robotically responds to questions with, "Queries must be addressed through the medium." The Black and white set, including white furniture, brightens in color only when electronic wiring is present. Will paper copies rise from the death of the Internet as a phoenix rises from the ashes? Or, will the Internet boot up to live another day?
Even if abstract headiness about the Internet is not your cup of tea, the jokes about Internet "life" are hysterical. If you don't know Godwin's Law, Wikipedia says it means "given enough time, in any online discussion-regardless of topic or scope-someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis." This show is not recommended for youngsters due to the abstract nature of the topic, as well as the many swear words the characters use. Imagine what you would say if your iPhone crashed or Facebook shut down in the middle of a conversation!
I love knowing that Boston is a place where new work by local playwrights featuring unfamiliar actors who are plying their talent can be seen and enjoyed for a reasonable price.
PAPER CITY PHOENIX is playing July 12th through 27th at Boston Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave. Tickets are available at www.bostonactorstheater.com, or by phone at 866-811-4111.