ComedyDramaNew YorkPerformance ArtReview

Seen/By Everyone – HERE Arts Center, New York

Writer: Five on a Match

Director: Kristin Marting

Reviewer: Jamie Rosler

As more of us live our lives online, the experience of mourning in public has become somewhat commonplace, and has arguably changed the way we both grieve for and connect to the people we’ve lost. Seen/By Everyoneis an effective exploration of what those changes look and feel like. Have we found a way to make our loved ones immortal, or are we trapping them and ourselves in a limbo of grief?

With a script built from found text, pulled from posts on various social media platforms, Five on a Match’s ensemble explores death and bereavement in the 21st century. The show opens with a series of innocuous voiceovers of several short posts, slowly overtaken by the ones announcing the sudden and unexpected health emergency of an Anthony Bellow. They go through the recitation of several posts offering prayers and support, and updates on the patient’s status, until they reveal an unfortunate and, according to friends, avoidable death.

Cut to live actors, populating a bar room with about a dozen screens, from 13” portable TVs to a pulldown projector screen. There are high-top bar tables, a stage where karaoke takes place, and various shades of neon signs and colored light bulbs. Everyone is wearing black, or white. Later on there is a large furry cat mask and Commedia dell’arte half masks apparently made from old disco balls. We travel back and forth in space and time among three or four different planes of existence.

Everyone in the bar is in mourning (even perhaps the woman who is already dead and the bartender personifying the social media platforms we use, and the robots we encounter in doing so). Some are in mourning for Anthony Bellow, others for the as-yet-unnamed, and one for the aforementioned dead woman. This does not mean that the entire production is grim or heavy. On stage, as online, as in life, we often need humor at the darkest of times. Heartfelt, poignantly lit monologues on loss are broken into by a friend’s mindless chatter on the silly topic du jour, the latest armchair expertise, or the cat popping up from behind the bar to entertain and distract.

This is not a perfect production, occasionally dealing with disproportionate volume issues between quiet actors and louder pre-recorded sound cues. The delineation of the assorted dimensions is often unclear, as far as what triggers the change, if anything, and whether the characters are aware of the distinctions and the roles they play in them. Ultimately however, whether these are purposeful choices or accidents, they do not dilute the validity and efficacy of the show’s journey. The questions raised about life, love, and death are made easier to digest when couched in the fun theatricality of this production.

Runs until 25 June 2016

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