by Liz Richards · February 25, 2015
One of the nice things about indie theater is that it moves quickly. A rapid turnaround time, from script to production to opening, means that the shows can have an immediacy and relevance to current events in a way that a show going through a chain of editors, producers, and various higher-ups cannot. This works in favor of technology-themed plays, where there's a new meme or app or trending topic every week.For this reason I was excited to see Let's Play Play, perhaps the first show dealing with Gamergate, a series of ongoing misogynistic attacks on feminists in the gaming world.
Ben Ferber (playwright) and Todd Brian Backus (director) are part of PowerOut, a company that's made its way to New York after a few years in Portland, ME. They're no strangers to the growing group of "Geek Theater," with a previous show called For the Lulz covering the way people present themselves online vs IRL. Let's Play Play covers similar territory, with Youtube stars Flood (Zachary Clarence, whose first appearance in a fedora told me everything I needed to know) and Dresher (Emeka Nwafor) as gamers playing up their friendship in "Let's Play" videos for more hits, more views, and ultimately more residuals. As their relationship deteriorates, Dresher replaces Flood with Bayes (Brittany K. Allen), a stellar geek rapper with a talent for old-school gaming.
As you might expect, a play that exists mostly online involves a lot of technical design. Some, like the games projected overhead as the characters play, are tough to see in Under St. Marks. More successful is the ever-present threat of Youtube Commenters, played by the same three actors in hoodies in near-darkness, illuminated only by small handheld screens. It's a great effect. As any good internetter knows, you never read the comments, and these start out innocuous enough (with the standard number of gay slurs and "FIRST!"s) but quickly deteriorate to threats and doxxing for Bayes, who dares to be a woman on the internet. There's quite the difference between people calling Dresher gay and people listing Bayes' address, and this split is where the script was most interesting to me. Bayes gets a lot to deal with in this production, and Allen is a delight to watch as she runs the gamut of emotions when she is "on" or "off." (And good lord can she spit verse!). Of the three, she's making the videos I would rewatch to make sure I caught all the references. Clarence and Nwafor fall into other Youtube stock characters, and their rapport in early scenes comes easily and feels natural.
I can't lie...I have an internet persona that's probably bigger than my real-life one. Online I am funnier, cleverer, and can remember useless trivia on demand (thanks Google). And as much as I try to be true to who I am, I constantly consider my audience. Let's Play Play deals nicely with this IRL/URL tug-of-war, something to think about the next time you try to have an opinion on the internet.