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Kristen Valerio in Moving at the Speed of Life
Finally, a play that takes a closer look at Starbucks--or, at least, at the people that spend time eating, drinking, reading poetry, talking, or just watching others around them. Moving at the Speed of Life, Kristen Valerio's new one-woman show that questions dependence on technology, media, and (of course) caffeine, couldn't have a better setting than the coffee establishment that has taken over New York City (and the rest of the world).

"I'm stuck in Starbucks," Valerio says, sitting in a comfortable-looking chair and sipping her brew at the beginning of the play. "I can't seem to leave." Valerio portrays a different character in each scene, showing why the first character is so fascinated by the people around her. One woman attempts an open-mic poetry reading and announces to the strangers listening that today she has been cancer-free for one year; another confides her "problem" of needing eight hours of sleep in order to function; and a wife tries to convince her husband that the only thing that will save their marriage is a trip to a karaoke bar. Although each character appears for just a few minutes and only two appear more than once, each is well developed enough to make the audience understand her plight. When a businesswoman begs a friend to take away her laptop, cell phone, and Palm Pilot so that she can have one weekend of peace, we understand her desire to reclaim the life she had before it was necessary to check e-mail and voicemail on a regular basis. And when she ultimately cannot part with them, we understand that as well.

Between scenes, a picture freezes on a video screen and we hear the recorded voices of civilians telling us what they need "to improve the quality of daily life" and what they wish they had more time to do. Answers to the first question include sleep, the Internet, reading, cell phones, attitude, and money; answers to the second include sleep and more time to spend with one's children. While these sound clips are related to the general topic of the play and bring up questions about values, they are not vital to the work as a whole. Similarly, the open-mic poet who appears after every few scenes with inspiring words from her collection clutters the play more than she furthers the plot. The poetry, written by Pat Brack, is beautiful, but its purpose is unclear: Is it supposed to contrast the tension of a technologically dependent society with words of tranquility? Distinct, troubled characters make the greatest impact in Moving at the Speed of Life, not the recurring devices that try to tie the show together.

Ed McNamee and Claire Shegog's set truly has a Starbucks atmosphere, probably because most of the props are authentic Starbucks merchandise (cups, posters, aprons, and so on). Valerio is a new person each time she enters the stage, not only because she carries herself differently or adds an accent but also thanks to appropriate costuming (e.g., suits for the businesswomen or an "I Love NY" shirt for a shopper who can't remember where she used to go to the bathroom before Starbucks came along) and other props (a curly, red wig and green apron when she's a cashier or a scarf when she's the poet.)

Moving at the Speed of Life is enjoyable because it provides an honest look at people in today's fast-paced world. Some characters are too exaggerated to be real, such as a woman who has mapped out a route to drive to Sprint headquarters and demand better cell phone service, but anyone can identify with at least some of their desires or compulsions. Although the play won't convince you not to turn your cell phone back on when leaving the theater, it will probably make you feel at least a little bit silly about checking your voice mail to see if anyone called during the show.

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