Searching for Signal
Performed by Touch Performance Art
Runs February 18 to March 4
The audience is gathered in the cozy Oberon Theater, with performance areas spread out between and around us. We are embedded in what promises to be a novel theatrical experience — an engaging mixture of dialogue, dance, and video.
Yet, the first thing creator Marissa Roberts tells us in this intimate setting is to feel free to take photos and tweet them throughout the show. Immediately, we millennials break away, eagerly diving into our pockets for the private glow of our own phones.
As the performance starts, I obligingly whip out my own. While I try to keep my eyes on the show, I cannot help the temptation to excitedly snap shots, and then tweet about the excitement of snapping shots. But the performers’ energetic choreography and sincere emotions soon give me a quandary: should I try to catch this perfect shot to show other people what a great time I’m having? Or should I watch it with my own eyes to make a lasting memory of the moment? #TheStruggleIsReal.
In the end, the dancing is too inviting and I put my phone aside, though still fingering the home button like a security blanket. I follow the leads, Kat (Misha Shields) and Jack (Rob Brinkmann), as they live their lives through their devices: Kat is caught up in a digital romance at the expense of her real life friends and career, while Jack is tied down by the constant pressures of work emails and bill payments that ping him throughout the day.
As much as I would already identify with Kat and Jack, Roberts and co-creator Elizabeth McGuire expertly tune both dialogue and dance to hopelessly draw me in. Their conversations with friends are ones I could have easily pulled from my own memory, while the choreography has a unique way of embellishing everyday movements. Kat lurches upright to an incoming call from her date, pulled almost like an unwilling addict; Jack hesitantly leans in and away from Kat as he sees her for the first time, as if unsure how to interact with an attractive human being if he cannot swipe right. The production boasts an impressive cast of dancers, with Brinkmann in particular giving a wonderfully honest portrayal of Jack, generous in both his movement and expression.
But as good as the piece is at engaging the emotion through these individual vignettes, the overarching narrative is loose, if not entirely non-existent. Kat spirals into a somewhat unrealistic obsession with her date, while Jack recovers from a failed venture just a little too easily. The concluding message is likewise discontinuous: it ends on the phrase, “I am enough,” when it is not clear the characters really feel that way. Worse, the piece finishes up with a dance number complete with a disco ball and Chinese water sleeves that seems to come out of left field. A bit more pruning and pacing would have gone a long way to deliver a simpler and clearer message to the audience. But then again, as confusing as carving an identity in our digitized lives has been for all of us, perhaps remaining somewhat lost is the point after all.