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Waterwell's new experimental chamber musical about life in the Internet Age is both highly amusing and genuinely perplexing. logo
Hanna Cheek, Kevin Townley, and David Ryan Smith in #9
(© Ryan Jensen)
Marshall McLuhan would probably have approved the message implicit in #9, the highly amusing and extremely ambitious experimental chamber musical collectively created by Waterwell, now at 59E59 Theaters, about life in the Internet age.

At the very least, he'd have appreciated the many intriguing questions it raises. For example, let's start with netiquette, as the play does glancingly. Is it ever appropriate to twitter condolences? Or would that task call for the relative formality of e-mail?

In true McLuhanesque fashion, the script takes a "mosaic" approach to storyline, looping back and free-associating wildly. The essence is this: Four friends each face a personal challenge of the age-old, human-dilemma sort that their various up-to-the-minute gadgets are ill equipped to address. The techno-rube Hanna (Hanna Cheek), a bartender/nanny, undergoes an all-out identity crisis when she tries to create a Facebook profile. From the very outset, she feels "fraudulently fraudulent." At one point, in a clever visual effect by video designer Alex Koch, her very shadow walks away, nonplussed. In a kind of exploratory cabaret, she tries on various vamp personae -- including McLuhan's own "Mechanical Bride" -- only to be called out by her own fractured self.

Meanwhile, Kevin (Kevin Townley) is facing the unique Facebook mortification of having to witness an ex moving on; David (David Ryan Smith) must deal with the death of his father; and Matt (Matt Dellapina) learns that fatherhood is in his future. However, Kevin's post-breakup blog secures him not a single date, instead eating up his emotional initiative. David sets up a website memorial to his father, which proves so inadequate in addressing his grief that he starts "considering to consider considering an easy way out" himself.

Only Matt actually derives some benefit from the surreal child-rearing advice he unearths on the internet. The counsel initially offered by his Lion King-loving father (played by Townley) is a hilarious washout, as is a scene in which David, paying tribute to his departed forebear, embarks on a '50s-style doo-wop ballad only to have his back-up singers fall by the wayside as they take calls and start texting and snapping photos.

Writer/director Tom Ridgely guides his cast briskly through their rapidly transmogrifying paces, amid Nick Benacerraf's media-rich and literally "wired" set. What with all the scene/character-shifting, not to mention the weighty philosophical underpinnings, I'll admit to being often perplexed -- but always pleasurably so.

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