nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 10, 2007
6969's first act is neatly and deliberately unsettling. In it, a 16-year-old boy named Mark is befriended online by a 14-year-old named John. Mark is, to all appearances, a normal teenager. John isn't: he's needy, he's obsessive, he's a bit of a techno-geek. He has a pet snake named Leonardo (after DiCaprio, who is the star of his favorite movie, Catch Me If You Can).
John introduces Mark (online) to his friend Sammy (short for Samantha), a girl who at first seems to have so much in common with Mark that it's almost too good to be true. The two immediately commence a hot chatroom romance, and it's not long before Sammy initiates some Internet sex via Mark's webcam.
And then the trouble starts. Sammy's brother, Timothy, finds Mark in the chatroom and issues some vague threats. Then Damien, a mysterious man from Sammy's past, turns up, equally menacing. Jesus (Christ) starts to send Mark messages as well. Suddenly, there's the specter of multiple murders, with Mark somehow innocently caught in the middle.
How does a kid get so involved with a whole bunch of people he's never actually met in real life? 6969 is a thriller for the Virtual Era, exposing the web of deceit and lies (pun entirely intended) that our new hyperconnectedness facilitates. The fact that it's based on a true story only makes it spookier. Parents: do you know what your kids are actually up to when they close the door and go online?
Playwright Jordan Seavey and director Matthew Hopkins set up their tale assuredly in its first half, but their second act proves to be something of a miscalculation. They begin it by giving away a crucial piece of information that, it seemed to me, was best saved for the end of the play. From there, 6969 turns away from its ripped-from-the-headlines thriller model and instead becomes a psychological case study (or a couple of them: both John and Mark are investigated here). What's revealed, though, is finally not as interesting or convincing as the cool premise portends. (And if I explain any further, I will be giving some seriously significant stuff away; see the play for yourself, and draw your own conclusion.)
This is, nevertheless, another example of the riveting, immediate style of indie theater that is becoming CollaborationTown's trademark; as in their earlier piece They're Just Like Us, the examination of what so-called enabling technologies take away from the human heart is dynamic and disturbing. The piece is presented with deft economy, on a simple set by Geoffrey Decas with evocative lighting (Mike Riggs) and ambient sound (Brandon Wolcott) doing much of the work to create mood and environment for the piece.
The cast is anchored by Ryan Purcell's spot-on portrayal of a 16-year-old boy on a quest and in heat; it's dazzlingly believable. Max Rosenak matches Purcell note for note in the first act as the frighteningly immature but precocious John, but in the second act, as the emphasis shifts toward his character, it's harder to accept him as 14. Boo Killebrew delivers a terrific supporting turn as the troubled Sammy. Julia Lowrie Henderson, Daniel Walker Stowell, and Phillip Taratula round out the ensemble.
I saw 6969 in an earlier incarnation last summer; if you did too, know that Seavey has done a great deal to change his play. There's a grand theatrical story to be told here, but I'm not sure that it's been entirely well-served in this current incarnation of the play.