nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
November 7, 2008
Joshua Scher's new play The Footage is a stylish, engrossing, contemporary thriller. The key word in that last sentence is contemporary: I don't know if Scher is an online gaming addict or not, but he re-creates a world of disconnected young people who are more obsessed with the virtual and quasi realities they inhabit on the Internet than with the actual events and experiences of their own disorganized lives with enough authenticity and detail to give pause. And Claudia Zelevansky, along with her excellent ensemble drawn from the Flea Theater's Bats, realizes Scher's vision immaculately in the intimate basement theatre space that puts this story almost too close for comfort to an audience of would-be voyeurs.
The thing about a suspense drama like The Footage is that it's essential to keep the plot's numerous twists and turns shrouded even as I try to give you a feel for it. There are two throughlines in the piece. One begins when Ph.D. student Alexa picks up a robust young hitchhiker named JC, apparently in the woods near her home which is somewhere in the middle of the United States. JC tells her that he just escaped from what he calls a "high school prison camp" where his parents, who he says are crazy, had him sent. Despite this disconcerting information, Alexa offers to let him stay with her and her roommates, at least for a little while. What transpires between JC, Alexa, and the other two women who live with Alexa—the timorous Lauren and the highly enigmatic and possibly dangerous Delilah—decidedly does NOT follow the teen horror movie beginning that Scher lays out in this prologue.
Meanwhile, in New York City we meet Chance and Ethan, roommates with parallel obsessions. Chance, some sort of budding and/or wannabe filmmaker, can't stop watching and re-watching a YouTube video serial in which a woman has apparently been kidnapped and is apparently being tortured. He's titillated and enthralled as he searches compulsively for clues as to whether it's "real" (i.e., the woman has actually been kidnapped); as he does so he understands on some level that it doesn't matter whether it's "real" because for him it is already as real as it can be. Ethan, a programming wiz, is addicted to an online adventure game. But it's possible that his current obsession stems as much from an anonymous gaming partner with whom he's becoming infatuated as from the joys of playing the game.
Wrinkles in these guys' lives are offered by Maya, Chance's girlfriend, who is a blocked writer whose only outlet is blogging about the videos that Chance can't stop watching; and by Dodge, a longtime friend who has just broken up with his girlfriend and needs a place to stay.
Scher skillfully weaves the NYC characters' destinies with those of the people in Alexa's house, in ways we don't always expect or foresee. Like the YouTube video and the adventure game that figure within it, it's a plot you can't turn away from, one that keeps you at the edge of your seat with anticipation.
Zelevansky heightens the tension by staging both stories on two sides of a single set (cleverly designed by Adrian Jones) that depicts what looks like one living room but in fact represents two of them; they intersect seamlessly in the center, and I loved how Zelevansky has the actors from each half of the play freely move into the others' space. Ben Stanton's lighting and Erin Murphy's costumes contribute to the mood and the verisimilitude, while the video by Room 404 Media is enormously impressive—it's absolutely pivotal to the presentation without ever causing the distraction that flickering light too often brings to a live theatrical offering.
All eight actors do outstanding work (note that there are two complete casts; the names that follow are the actors I saw). Jamie Effros and Michael Micalizzi create very different kinds of (very personable and empathetic) Internet geeks as Chance and Ethan; Nicolas Flower is likable as their pal Dodge, and Caroline Hurley gives us a smart, conflicted take on Maya. Michael Guagno is splendidly guileless as JC. Elizabeth Alderfer (Delilah), Blair Baker (Lauren), and Rachel McPhee (Alexa) are spot-on as well. But I don't want to tell you too much about why...because I don't want to spoil the surprises of The Footage.
Check it out...