Thanks to having attended “Xanadu” at the La Jolla Playhouse, I ended up on their mailing list for future shows. I was sent a mailer inviting me to check out a limited run show as part of their Edge series of plays. The Edge series is designed to bring new and adventurous works to the stage in the hopes of presenting groundbreaking and innovative theatre. This season’s selection is called “Continuous City” produced by The Builder’s Association.
“Continuous City” tells the tale of how modern technology from the likes of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace allow you to connect no matter where you are, as if you’re in one great big continuous city, but yet, even with the technology it’s very isolating. The story gets told through the perspectives of four people. J.V., is the project manager for a fictional social networking site called XUBU. He spends much of the time trying to run the project while juggling video conferencing calls with family and girlfriends. He’s also tasked with keeping existing investors content as the site approaches launch. Finding investors for J.V. to keep happy is Michael. In addition to battling jet lag and finding investors, Michael finds it difficult to connect with his daughter, Samantha, back home when he’s trying to use the technology to stay connected but finds his daughter growing distant without a definitive answer of when he’ll be home to be with her in person. Additionally, Samantha is left in the care of Deb, a video blogger who is out exploring the city she’s in when she’s not taking care of Samantha.
In addition to the actors on stage, good portions of the show are carried out on 32 screens that pop open and closed at to meet the needs of the scene presentation. The screens are fitting for the role of Mike as portrayed by Harry Sinclair as his entire performance is carried out on the screens. Mike has the challenge of being forced to use the technology to be connected with both his job and his daughter, but despite the wonderful advances, finds the virtual presence limiting in how he’s able to interact. The only time the audience sees Mike in the flesh is during the casts bows concluding the show.
J.V. as portrayed by Rizwan Mirza, on the other hand enjoys the remoteness often dissuading the opportunity to connect in person be it distant family members in other cities or his menagerie of girls he virtually dates. J.V. even shuns one girlfriend specifically who wants to come visit finding it would make their relationship too complicated if they were in the same city. Ultimately J.V. seems to be a very ethically challenged character as exemplified by his virtual chat with several girlfriends at the same time, keeping the conversation brief and generic enough to keep all of the girls talking at the same time. His final scene in the play is a bit of a shocker to see how low he goes when push comes to shove.
About the most likable character in the show is Deb, performed by Moe Angelos. She’s the only one who really interacts with another character in the real world, that being Samantha, portrayed by Carolyn O’Neill. As Samantha grows tired of the “soon” response from her father about when he’s coming home and grows more distant, Samantha also withdraws from Deb. This forces Deb to having to resort to text messaging Samantha within the same room in order to communicate with her as Samantha refuses to acknowledge anything spoken to her. And Deb tries just about everything to find a way to connect with Samantha on a personal level.
Additionally, Deb uses the Internet to connect with others via video blogging. In segments that are customized for each city the show travels to, Deb uses her video blogs to personalize a virtual tour of the city. Here in San Diego, Deb video blogs about a camel dairy in Ramona, the Lawrence Welk museum just north of Escondido, and a swap meet near San Ysidro that was selling cactus pads as food. (Having lived in San Diego for 23 years, even I didn’t know about there being a camel dairy in Ramona, apparently the only one in the US too.) The comedic insights into these “tour of San Diego” moments were a welcome relief from the more heavy isolation themes covered by the other characters.
Overall, the show does a nice job of showcasing the odd paradox of the more virtually social we become, the more isolated we really are. The ability of a father to be able to connect on a video phone with his daughter daily while traveling shows how far we’ve come but the fact its a poor substitute for a goodnight hug and a bedtime story really echo the isolating aspects. It makes the virtual connections feel less special because they can be done more often, with great immediacy, where in the past, the daughter would have to wait by a mailbox for postcards sent by the father from the road often a week to two weeks behind where the father would currently be.
The contrast with J.V. using the social connections to remain aloof really showcased the more negative aspects of social networking. The disposability of the relationships seemed to be the danger of it as J.V.’s character only seemed to be present and genuine so long as the conversations served his needs. If the needs shifted to the other party, he was distant, evasive, combative, and devious. His final scene left me with absolute contempt for the character and probably not the best note upon which to dwell upon on the way to the parking lot. It erased a lot of the genuine fun gained from the Deb’s video blog segments.
The show comes across as a very rough around the edges work in progress. I imagine it could become a lot more compelling with fine tuning. It’s definitely not a show I feel compelled to run out and tell people to run out and see, but it was a night out, and the ticket was cheap. I felt like I got my money’s worth.
More information can be found on the show by visiting ContinuousCity.org. And audience members can become part of the virtual show by recording a video blog about what they think of when they think of home at XUBU.cc/.