The internet is a wonderfully versatile accomplice for commerce, communication, and pornography (provide your own order of relevance). But it isn't a natural source of material for drama; a web page with text and pictures hardly lends itself to the life and breath of live action, and email and chat rooms play out entirely in the mind—updated, light-speed versions of the old, hand-delivered, scented letter.
But what happens on the internet doesn't always stay in the internet, as Cory Hinkle's new SadGrrl13 attests. It opens with a bold and jarring scene: Steve (Garry Geiken) and Dick (Ed Jones) stand side by side in an all-white cube of space (the stage is divided into thirds in director Jeremy Wilhelm's design). They speak in flat tones, edging around the subject of sex, and occasionally breaking into the exaggerated smiles and frowns of emoticons.
They're in a chat room, of course, their minds connecting in the ether. And what a connection it is. Steve appears to be engaged in the first tentative steps of seducing a teenage boy, while Dick appears to have kissed his adolescence goodbye roughly a half-century ago. Matters are ambiguous, and nicely squishy.
at the Playwrights' Center through June 28
THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM
Minneapolis Musical Theatre
at Hennepin Stages through June 29
The action shifts to a local newsroom, where Tyler (Clarence Wethern) shows up for work and banters across the cubicle wall with Brian (Nick Crandall). It seems Tyler quit his job spectacularly the day before, smashing a phone and spewing regrettable vituperation at his boss, Angela (Zoe Benston). After a spot of begging he gets to keep his gig, but the cause of friction remains: Angela's fixation on SadGrrl, the screen name of a girl who disappeared from the suburbs and left only cyber traces behind.
So the currents at play here are exploitation, deception, and power (Benston nicely captures the ruthless ratings grab of the news exec, following it up near the end with an equally chilling take on gender relations). But exactly how they come together is hard to say. Dick, the chat-room poser, turns out to be a crusader bent on exposing online predators, working out his considerable kinks in the name of virtue, and Brian ends up as heartless as they come, going wide-eyed at the prospect of cheaply exploiting the conscience-free headline-grabbers in his midst.
Yet while you wouldn't know it for much of the evening, Tyler ends up being the crucial character here, and Wethern's insolent take on his character, while working well in earlier scenes, falls flat in a psychic minefield scene with Benston. Wethern isn't helped by a script that calls on him to be callous one moment and idealistic the next, and at turns caustic and gullible.
By the end, Tyler is thrashed around in more ways than one, and we're left grasping for the point of why he in particular should be on the receiving end. Or why Dick's cracked up. Or what the hell Angela's problem might be (maybe none at all, come to think of it). There are terrific moments here, and a vibrant sense of searching, but the parts come together like a stew that needs to cook considerably longer.
THE ROBBER BRIDEGROOM, on the other hand, arrives fully cooked and happily spiced with weirdness. It's a Deep South fable about robber Jamie Lockhart (Patrick Morgan, with a perpetual shit-eating grin) eventually grabbing the hand of a plantation heiress (Jamie Dix) after dealing with her horrible mother, Salome (Karen Wiese-Thompson, somehow charming while frequently emitting horrid screeches in lieu of speech), and fending off the unhygienic Little Harp (Carl M. Schoenborn).
It's all quite cheerfully amoral, and a four-piece band offers up the bluegrass and country tunes with a game eagerness. The big production numbers are models for how to pull off this kind of stuff on a small-theater budget. There's even a duet between Little Harp and his brother Big Harp (Christian Unser), a severed head living in a trunk. It's bawdy and silly, in other words, and a good deal of fun.