Score another point for Mark Zuckerberg. This morning I blogged about the Facebook book, which is being turned into the Facebook movie—and then this evening I found myself at the Facebook play. (Technically, I guess, it was the Facebook site-specific multimedia experience.)
#Ringtone was one of the Fringe shows I was most excited to see. Recommending the show in Vita.mn, I noted that it boasts one of the best casts in the Fringe—in fact, it has one of the best ensembles to be seen together on any local stage this summer. With Katie Kaufmann, Lindsay Marcy, Ben McGinley, Skyler Nowinski, Matt Sciple, Anna Sundberg, and Adam Whisner, writer/director Alan Berks has a lot of firepower squeezed together with his entire audience in the small Fallout Urban Arts Center gallery.
The show’s fractured narrative leapfrogs from one vignette to another like a Girl Talk mashup, with the episodes bleeding into one another as well as on and off the sound systems and video screens. Some of the characters return in multiple vignettes, and some of the relationships overlap, but if there’s an elaborate grand scheme connecting all the action, it’s pretty obscure. Every plot strand somehow involves communication technology, and the show has the effect of looking over a stranger’s shoulder at his Facebook news feed. You’d think there would be a voyeuristic thrill to peeking into strangers’ lives, but without the context you have when looking at your own news feed, strangers’ lives can actually be pretty boring.
By forgoing a traditional narrative and inserting so many rapid-fire cuts between stories and themes, Berks makes it hard for his audience to settle in and engage with the show. I suppose that’s kind of the point, but if we’re to really feel the emotional distance new technologies create—or, as the case may be, bridge—there have to be characters and stories we care about. If we don’t really know these people, why should we be upset when they don’t connect, or cheer when they do?
That said, the performers make the most of what they’re given, and even if the whole of #Ringtone is ultimately less than the sum of its parts, there are many nice little parts. Best is a pas de deux between Sundberg and McGinley, who stand on a high platform in the center of the gallery and negotiate intimacy through the equivalent of status updates, obviously and self-consciously in full view of everyone. The cast also prove themselves very videogenic, and the on-screen interludes created by McGinley routinely upstage the show’s live vignettes.
Should you work #Ringtone into your Fringe schedule? It depends on what you’re looking for. If you prize a good story or cutting social commentary, you can pass. (The show does speak to its theme of technology and relationships, but not particularly coherently or compellingly.) If, on the other hand, you go to theater for great performances and moments of transcendence, #Ringtone is a call you should answer.
Photo courtesy Minnesota Fringe Festival