Reviewed by Robin Breon
Remember the scene in Bye Bye Birdie when Mr. McAfee and his family get the word that they are going to be on the Ed Sullivan Show with Conrad Birdie? I always think that's what it must be like when one of the smaller scale shows in Toronto gets the nod from Mirvish Productions that "their shoe" has been deemed worthy of the main stage. It must be an electric bit of frisson that shoots through the company when the word comes down as it did for the talented folks at Theatre Gargantua that their play e-Dentity, which was one of the break-out hits at the Toronto Fringe Theatre Festival two years ago, would get to see an after-life as part of the Mirvish Productions subscription season.
One can readily understand why producer Brian Sewell was attracted to the show and felt it worth the effort. Artistic director Jacquie P.A. Thomas and her playwright partner, Michael Spence have put together a multi-media romp that zips around the stage like the cursor on an optical mouse as it weaves together several characters mapping their way through lives that seem to take on meaning only when they log into cyber-space. These mostly anonymous, though sometimes compelling relationships, take on various twists and turns, in chat rooms with participants from around the globe.
In an effort to dramatize these relationships, the information technology is displayed on various scrims, screens and monitors within a constantly rotating and choreographed movement of swivel chairs and coordinated keyboard action to the extent that it makes one worry about the effects of repetitive strain injury. The strength of the direction (and here is where I give Ms. Thomas a lot of credit) is meeting the challenge of a basically sedentary activity (i.e. sitting in front of your computer) and elevating it to life, motion and dramatic action on the stage.
But although the Internet as fodder for the drama is a compelling idea, it doesn't quite come off in this production. Perhaps it's the elevation of "Dog Poop Girl" as the scatological obsession of the chat rooms in the first act which doesn't quite have the humor or gravitas to move us comfortably into some of the more serious questions raised (albeit with brevity) in the second act. Despite the dramaturgical challenge, I did enjoy the invention of a new theatrical device which I'll dub the "web-cam cameo" featuring an agitated mayor of Toronto, David Miller, along with a more nuanced performance by David Mirvish himself dialoguing on the appropriate punishment to be meted out to Dog Poop Girl.
In offering something of a disclaimer for any critic who might want to zero in on the superficial surface-writing of the script, the program notes make it clear that e-Dentity is not meant to work around a traditional, linear dramatic structure, rather it has "fascinating characters, settings and action, but these are presented in new and inventive ways, bringing us a whole new kind of theatre experience." Yes, I get that, but hold on a minute. There are still the conventions of story telling that you disregard at your own risk when writing for the theatre.
As e-Dentity reminds us several times, the Internet is a vast universe of ideas and interactions globally linked and on-going 24/7. What about Fast Eddie getting middled in cyberspace along with the day trader who lost everything and put a 45 to his head? Then there are the Paris Hilton wannabes, the underside of the porno industry and that mysterious assistant minister of finance operating out of a boiler room in Lagos that would like to put 35.2 million in your personal account, just for a short while. In other words, there are eight million stories in cyberspace - take your pick and write a play.