The Random Loneliness of Social Media Connection
by Carole di Tosti
Do you have a more intimate relationship with your hand held devices than you do with your friends, family and significant other? If so, then Lia Romeo’s sardonic, “LOL” Connected, insightfully directed by Michole Biancosino, will strike an inner cord. It may even cause you to step back from obsessively checking your cell’s battery icon juice level when you forget your portable charger at home.
Tightly crafted to highlight the funniest and most tragic aspects of our hyper-use of social media platforms and interactions with robotic technology, in her play Connected, Romeo reminds us that keeping flush with social media trends isn’t necessarily the way to expand our souls and gain the wisdom to live more fulfilled lives. In fact it may exacerbate our feelings of disconnectedness with others and filter away true, profound communication delivered live via complete sentences.
Romeo presents her themes through four humorous, interconnected vignettes adroitly honed from start to finish with development arcs that offer no extraneous, lumbering writing. The director’s apt music selection, costuming and staging with easily movable boxes work well. The ensemble configures the boxes to suggest the set for each scene. The “actual/real” sets, in an ironic twist are projected on a TV screen perched above the stage, and change with each vignette. The director and playwright are humorously tweaking the truth of TV reality with stage reality.
In one of the strongest scenes, an awkward Meghan (acted to perfection by Midori Francis), must negotiate an embarrassing viral video of her “strip-tease” prom invite to Evan which his friend secretly taped and downloaded to Youtube. Romeo hysterically morphs the humiliating virality into “worthy” news. Meghan is interviewed by a smarmy TV Host (a spot-on, campy send-up by Ella Dershowitz), who gets her a prom date with a young celebrity music icon. The date fails and the only enjoyable time Meghan has is with her shy neighbor Jeremy (Robby Clater kills it). Romeo underscores how compatibility is born out of soul familiarity that is more easily achieved with live interaction.
Another powerful vignette captures the dangers of online dating sites. When teacher Ms. Haverill (in a heart-felt portrayal by Dana Jacks), searches for love online, she becomes the prey of two students who set up a fake profile of the “perfect” guy to lure her. Jarred (a fine job by Aria Shahghasemi), guiltily confesses his actions. A truthful, deep conversation ensues in which he and Ms. Haverill discuss how their loneliness drove them to “Tinder.”
Online role playing games are questioned in an intriguing, humorous scene about an introverted, geeky teen (Ella Dershowitz is excellent as Sharon), whose life revolves around the game of Warcraft. Romeo makes the avatars “come alive.” Their costumed caricatures are beautifully portrayed by the ensemble. Sadly, they are the only ones who Sharon comfortably interacts with. The game has intruded on her ability to function, find a job and love. Her most meaningful relationship is with her brother Scott (Thomas Muccioli is incredible throughout the production). In a poignant moment, they both confess their miseries to each other. The extent to which Sharon is spiraling out of reality into no life lived except online is a profound expose of the impact of fractured virtual reality on one’s soul.
In Romeo’s additional vignettes, the playwright searches how expectations dull our experience of reality. One vignette is online and you will have to go there to watch the video of it, in an interesting and truly sardonic thematic twist.
The power of Connected is in how Romeo engineers her characters and scenes to question the contradictory purposes and effects of technology and social media. Romeo suggests, though the internet may have brought the world together, in some ways that “connectedness” has not elevated the quality, strength and viability of our interactions. Nor has it encouraged our ability to deal with loneliness, soul sickness and emotional pain. By using it to escape our inner selves, we may be doing ourselves and others more harm than we can imagine.
You can see this dynamically directed, well-acted, expertly conceived production of Connected at 59E59 Theaters. It is 90 minutes with no intermission.
Connected. Through March 26 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison). Ticket Central, 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org