Rizwan Mirza in Super Vision
Rizwan Mirza in Super Vision
Before Super Vision begins, one of its characters delivers a curtain speech, but not the now-standard one reminding us to turn off our cell phones and unwrap cellophane-packaged candies. Instead, she gives us demographic information about the audience, gleaned from the credit card purchases of our tickets. We are told that those seated in the front orchestra at BAM's Harvey Theater make an average of $50,000 more per year than those in the balcony, who are identified in this survey as a "multi-culti mosaic." This and other insights, the speaker reveals, have been gathered by Claritas, the same organization that works for Coca Cola and the U.S. government.

Once again, the Builders Association -- the avant-garde troupe whose Alladeen was previously seen at BAM -- is out to confound expectations. Super Vision imagines three scenarios that demonstrate our ever-diminishing privacy. In one scene, a Ugandan businessman encounters constant trouble at customs because his flagged passport reveals his frequent commercial traveling, his Islamic faith, and other personal information. In the second, a family appears to have moved to Denver for bird-watching -- as indicated by their membership in the Audubon Society and their recent purchase of binoculars -- but it turns out that the father is also dodging the Federal government because of an act of fraud that may ruin his son's future. Finally, a woman who's studying abroad in New York calls her grandmother in Sri Lanka to help her digitally archive her life, but this proves difficult to do as the older woman is suffering from dementia.

One can describe Super Vision as a play within a play within a play. While these mini-dramas are acted out, a team of "security officials" watches them through video cameras and other monitoring devices. The audience members are also voyeurs, gazing at the addresses, credit cards, social security numbers, and other sensitive information about the characters. (The critics who attended the opening performance added an unintentional meta-theatrical element to the show as they jotted down notes throughout ).

As with any Builders Association presentation, the multimedia display takes center stage -- and it can be dizzying. The technical team projects images of data streams, live video feeds, vast matrixes, and so on at a lightning pace. But it's hard to tell what the show's trying to impart, other than an abject fear of identity fraud and "Big Brother." Not many people in the audience will be surprised to find out that Muslims who travel a lot tend to get harassed in airports, and the story about the father's fraud scheme is melodramatic.

The most powerful episode, that of the Sri Lankan grandmother, is also the least sensational. Moe Angelos delivers a wry and charming depiction of a sassy old woman who is obsessed with American pop-culture and relishes her nostalgic visits to her youth. The scene's revelation of her failing memory contains the play's sharpest insight: that the most sophisticated technologies don't guarantee accurate information.

Other standouts in the cast include Joseph Silvsky, who portrays a series of hapless border agents with comedic skill, and Rizwan Mirza as the hilariously frustrated traveler who teeters closer toward the edge with every trip to customs. David Pence and Kyle Decamp as the bird-enthusiast parents give one-note performances, but this may be a function of their schematic dialogue. Though Constance De Jong's script has plenty of flash and wit, it needs more depth. Likewise, Marianne Weems directs the production sleekly and creatively but without enough emphasis on the emotional lives of the characters.

Even when tastefully done, shows like Super Vision risk coming across as scare-inducing news bulletins -- as if we need to be made more afraid in today's world! Still, this play makes us consider some important issues that we too often take for granted.