On the one hand, you get the sense that it’s just about time to call a moratorium on stage works that: focus on technology’s dual role in disconnecting our intimate relationships while ostensibly affording us more and more opportunities to communicate; feature characters talking into computer cameras while their images are projected elsewhere; and draw upon the mind-blowing urbanization of our species as a metaphor for speed, and incoherence, and our perhaps shaky shared future.
Then, on the other hand, when all these elements are tackled with energy and assurance, as is the case with The Builder’s Association’s Continuous City, you come away with an unsettled state of mind (which is on the favorable list of states for theater to induce). If our toys, and our ideas, and our opportunities for relentless movement (physically and psychically) are indeed going to lead to the downfall of our coherence, it’s going to feel something like this.
The plot, such as it is, is relatively straightforward. In his office we meet J.V. (Rizwan Mirza), the head of a start-up tech firm hell-bent on getting online a sort of global Facebook, in which families and friends scattered around the world can connect via a form of teleconferencing. His primary salesman is Mike (Harry Sinclair), riding a visionary reputation on the basis of a book he authored and, throughout the show, slingshotting around the world to sell the concept (called XUBU).
Back home in Minneapolis, however, Mike young daughter Sam (Caroline O’Neill) is working up a bitter stew of childhood depression. She and Mike communicate via computer, their images flickering to each other on screens while Mike seemingly teleports to Somalia, Mexico, Las Vegas, and points in between (and there are a lot of points in between). Meanwhile, J.V. tries to keep the company afloat amid sudden competition, when not busy doing everything in his power to avoid the intimacy of a conventional romantic relationship.
Very little here stands out as dramatically exceptional (the most moving scenes are between Mike and Sam, with Sam growing increasingly colder and Mike beginning to show the strains of his frantic quest), though the show finds its clearest voice in Peter Flaherty’s video design. A seemingly limited number of square projection screens, in all manner of sizes, snap open and shut with cold choreography. The seemingly limitless combinations of these screens ensures that no two scenes look alike (fostering a dislocated rootlessness), and under Marianne Weems’s direction the synchrony between the live actors and recorded video verges on the uncanny.
There’s a sense that matters could have been significantly tightened (Moe Angelos, as Sam’s nanny Deb, interjects a series of blog videos about local tourist sites that, while tying thematically into the show’s finish, drag the pace). And in terms of story, it’s best to say that the actors do a very decent job with something half-formed. Still, Continuous City delivers for the eye, and makes a decent stab at asserting that our shrinking world does so while squeezing connection, and meaning, so hard until they’re fit to burst.
- Quinton Skinner