Does new technology applied to theater produce a digitized Greek chorus or a chorus of heckling geeks? When Seed Art Share bravely enabled cell phone crowd chats during its June production of Moving Pieces:2, which has further performances in July, August and September, the outcome was a combination of the two.
In this promenade theater piece, we follow Em and Austin—quite literally—through scenes in businesses and on the sidewalks of North Person Street, near Raleigh's historic Mordecai neighborhood.
After our start at Trinity Gallery, the potential young lovers part ways for a bit, staying in touch (and delivering exposition) via text message. The technology that lets us eavesdrop on that conversation also lets us chat among ourselves throughout the show. During the 10 scene breaks in this 80-minute work, there's plenty of time for the crowd to confer.
When Em and Austin procured sugary sweets from a vendor early on, one wise guy texted, "Where are our donuts? Is this sponsored by Krispy Kreme?" And while I can be a pretty tough theatrical customer, even snarkier responses than these had me giving my shirt collar a Dangerfield tug at points. "Betrayal! Next up: Conflict!" mocked one text, before another immediately rejoined, "So much angst."
Ouch. Unfortunately, some of the teckling (that's text heckling) had a point. Despite the innovative concept and Sue Scarborough's direction, Logan Sutton's script stays pretty soapy as manic pixie dream girl Em (Christine Lane in June, Laura Levine in July) goads depressive stick-in-the-mud Austin (in June, Lazarus Simmons; in July, Ryan Brock) to embrace life, and her, during a period of transition. At the same time, the two try to pair up their respective single parents, Janet (Christine Rogers in June; Leanne Norton Heintz this month) and Ben (Larry Evans) so that Janet can renovate Ben's '50s-era kitchen and help him move on following the death of his wife, Austin's mom.
In the midst of all this, Austin does give himself an imaginative good talking to (again, technically mediated, and accompanied by Joe Wimberley's jazz bass). But the ensuing earnest psychobabble had me writing, "Do real people talk like this"—just in my notes, not in a text. And when one character hopes that "we might fix one another," and a mom urges her daughter to kiss a still visibly noncommittal boy, this production seems to have skipped a number of steps in its lunge toward a happy ending.
Angela Santucci's band provided tasteful counterpoint, and urban theater and text-mediated performance are concepts well worth exploring. Here's hoping someone picks up those torches and takes them further.This article appeared in print with the headline "Walkie Talkie."