Mickle Maher's new play for Theater Oobleck samples Whitman for a fanciful contemplation of digital communication.
Posting on social media can sometimes feel like tossing coins down a bottomless well, but at least we don’t have it as dire as Carol (Diana Slickman), who’s seemingly one of the last communicative humans in a malware-corrupted near future. In this world, social media outlets like WeUseIt and RageScroll trained people to employ reductive textspeak, emoticons and caps-locked rants to the point of feeble incapacity; with the web (known here as “the Weed”) ravaged by viruses, most people’s real-world interactions have been reduced to mumbling, shuffling avoidances of eye contact. When Carol finds herself invited to a new network, YouSpake, she signs up only to find herself alone save for the AI “unnamed Host or Hostess” (Colm O’Reilly) which presses her to “lengthy post.”
Mickle Maher’s new piece might sound like it’s headed toward a get-off-my-lawn screed against social media, but in fact Maher wryly employs the language and tropes of the earliest online interactions: Carol is flying blind in a text-based environment, speaking her own “stage directions” in third-person asterisked manner people used to on IRC channels or Usenet newsgroups (*laughs*, *sighs*). Maher specifies there be no set, so in Theater Oobleck’s directorless, in-the-round staging, we’re focused entirely on the text and the mournful, yearning performances of Slickman, O’Reilly and Guy Massey, as a timid second user who the Host/Hostess tries to keep away from Carol. Borrowing equally from WWW and W.W.—as in Walt Whitman, whose Leaves of Grass plays into the virtual poetry—Maher crafts an engaging, resonant online ode.
Theater Oobleck at DCASE Storefront Theater. By Mickle Maher. With Diana Slickman, Colm O’Reilly, Guy Massey. Running time: 1hr 30mins; no intermission.