nytheatre.com review by Stan Richardson
November 18, 2008
With their newest multimedia theatre piece, Continuous City, The Builders Association answers more questions than it raises. Answers about how technological progress—in this case, camera phones, webcams, and video blogs—and online communities may do more to fan the cold fire of isolation than to extinguish it. Answers about how physical presence may trump even our most intimate virtual relationships. Answers about how being everywhere at once may leave someone feeling like he or she is absolutely nowhere at all.
Part wan meditation and part morality play, Continuous City begins with a now very commonly held set of conclusions about the Internet and 21st Century Relationships. Mike DeVries, a renowned urban archeologist, seems very unhappy. He has been hired to circle the globe, vetting third world countries for their potential enthusiasm for a burgeoning social networking website, called XUBU. We get to watch him just as his semi-abandoned-feeling daughter Sam does: through a computer screen as he apologizes for being so far away from her. The founder of XUBU and Mike's current boss, J.V., is unhappy that Mike is unhappy because Mike's unhappiness is causing Mike to do his job poorly. Deb, the nanny Mike hired to take care of Sam, is semi-abandoned-feeling because Sam is semi-abandoned-feeling and is causing Deb to feel like she's doing her job poorly. If this sounds like a strangely banal soap opera, it's because—if you strip away the nifty video screens—that's all this production is.
There are some moments of levity: Deb, who has just moved to New York to take care of Sam in a gated community in Nassau County, has a video blog (or "vlog")—"Deb in the City"—about her unqualified desire to be in the presence of celebrity (even Leonard Bernstein's grave will do in a pinch). Yet the more pop culture references she spouts, the more her instantaneous public journal entry feels stale and antiquated. Is this intentional? Perhaps, but this aspect of her character—along with almost every other aspect, come to think of it—is unexplored. And J.V. humorously juggles a whole host of women spread out across the world who are ready to take their relationship with him to the Next Level: i.e., meeting in person. However, J.V., played by Rizwan Mirza, is a pleasant and attractive guy, while the majority of the ladies we see (on screens, natch) are not much to look at and have a rather uniform neediness. Is this also intentional? If so, it is an unusual circumstance that deserves some investigation.
Continuous City, co-conceived by director Marianne Weems, dramaturg James Gibbs, and writer Harry Sinclair (who also plays Mike), seems far more concerned here with getting across its themes than digging into its characters. Save for Deb's cute-ish diatribes (written by the actress herself, Moe Angelos), the script is ponderous and predictable. And three of the four talented actors—Angelos, Mirza, and Sinclair—have a dodgy, unsettled quality that, if intentional, is not used to the production's advantage. (As Sam, the young Olivia Timothee seems literally right at home.)
Sadly, Continuous City suffers from—and inflicts—the very ailments it so ho-hummedly identifies. I left the Brooklyn Academy of Music feeling dazed, like I had just spent a couple hours at a temp job staring at a computer screen, not resentful at the time passed, but certainly not galvanized to do much of anything. Making my way to the exit through a thick swarm of patrons, I felt neither isolation, nor solidarity, just that I was one of many.