Saturday, July 27, 2013

QUICK TAKE REVIEWS By Beverly Creasey From Cell Towers to Cell Nuts

Walt McGough invents delightful characters, like Tower Girl, the accidental (super) heroine of PAPER CITY PHOENIX (@ Boston Playwrights’ Theatre through July 27th). He writes immensely clever dialogue and wildly imaginative scenarios like PAPER CITY’s cautionary tale about our omnipresent internet culture.

We’ve all sold our souls to the internet. It’s already taken over our lives so it’s no stretch to suggest that we could be totally controlled by the electronic monster. As one of McGoegh’s characters warns, “If the internet collapses, there will be no record of anything.”

To remedy this, Tower Girl’s friend, Gale, begins to make printouts of everything on the web, starting alphabetically. This, of course, triggers the homeland security police, who troll cyberspace looking for possible crime. (And we now know that our e-mails and internet activity really are under surveillance.)

The only people in PAPER CITY who have sworn off the internet are a flock (and don’t call them a “cult”) of Luddites. I always root for Luddites but when everything (“No more networks, no more clouds, no more electricity”) is destroyed during a singularity, they’re not much help.

In McGeough’s vision of global disaster, people are sucked into the ether, a sort of limbo where internet automatons have started “rendering” humans obsolete to make room for more data. These authoritarian robots speak a lot like Tony Kushner’s angels (“I, I, I”) but they’re not nearly as kind.

Not to worry. Tower Girl (the wonderfully manic Caroline L. Price) who was struck by lightening in the first scene, can communicate with them. Gale (Danielle Lucas) finds her working cell phone and the two set out to save the world. Alas, when the electricity comes back on, so does the internet and we’re back to where we started, with no one communicating face to face.

Director Melanie Garber’s crackerjack cast keeps all of McGeogh’s balls in the air and I hardly noticed that the last bit (of plot) had gotten away from me, I was so engrossed. Michael Fisher is wryly amusing as the novice in David W. Frank’s doomed Luddite movement and Monica Shea and Anthony Rios make goofy, chummy cops. (Shea morphs with panache after intermission into one of those computer geek bots.)

Rendition comes up again in Christopher Durang’s broad, satirical swipe at the religious right and their love of gunplay, WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM (opening July 25th appropriately @ the Arsenal Center). The Titanic Theatre Company’s raucous production is full of barbs aimed at our national obsession with the “War on Terror.”

Poor Felicity (a lovely Caroline Rose Markham) wakes up from a drug rape to find herself married to an unsavory character named Zamir (an edgy Alexander J. Morgan). Her pistol happy pappy (the spectacularly outrageous Jeff Gill) calls in his paramilitary pals (Alisha Jansky in the “pants” role and Brett Milanowski in the “Bugs Bunny” part) to torture the man and get him to confess his Al-Qaeda connections.
Durang lampoons everything from the rights of a fetus (to vote, of course!)… to the use of torture under the new “Terror” guidelines… to Tom Stoppard’s lengthy three-part UTOPIA. (Sometimes his targets wander a bit.) Most of the humor lands successfully thanks to director Adam Zahler’s devotion to the absurd. It’s an awfully long play but whenever it started to flag on opening night, Gill’s antics brought the energy back with another infusion of madness. Zahler gets fine comedic work, too, from Shelley Brown as Gill’s wacky, distracted wife and from Jonathan Barron as a new age minister who makes porn films (and gets to deliver one of the worst puns I’ve ever heard!).