November 30, 2017

“Then everyone whipped out their phones and started recording”

By everhobbes-26 Views-No Comment

Stage Door’s Christopher Hoile reviews Instant: “It’s the kind of play about the present that deserves the widest possible audience since it will help teens and their parents to formulate questions more clearly to help navigate the ethically muddied waters of the two worlds we now live in.”

Read on Stage Door’s website: Review – Instant

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“Then everyone whipped out their phones and started recording”

With Instant Erin Shields has a written a tight, punchy drama that cuts to the heart of one of main preoccupations of teens – getting noticed. What she finds is that in the world of social media a teen can’t always get noticed for the right reasons. Shields packs more issues into the 45 minutes of Instant than most playwrights do in plays twice the length. Impeccable performances and clear direction help make Instant a play that teens and parents will want to see and discuss.

Shields presents us with three characters at the same high school who also serve as narrators. Meredith, called Mer (Michelle Rambharose), the chief narrator and central focus of the play, has quit her piano lessons yet wants to become a singer-songwriter and likes to fantasize about being rich and famous. Her best friend is Jay (Dakota Jamal Wellman), who views playing hockey as his only way of getting ahead. Mer likes to encourage Jay to fantasize as much about fame as she does, though he is not really so inclined. His problem is anger management, a problem he shares with his mother, and his bare-fisted fights on the ice get him suspended and could jeopardize his career.

While Mer outwardly makes a show of high self-esteem, she only posts videos of herself singing covers of other songs since she is too afraid to post any of her own songs. The third teen Rosie (Leah Fong), a painfully shy girl whom Mer regards as a loser, is also a singer and starts a crowdfunding site to help gather money for experimental treatment of her father’s MS. Rosie sings a song about her father on the site and Mer is surprised and angered to see that Rosie’s video gets thousands of hits and likes whereas her own are only in the low hundreds.

Jay is unhappy with Mer’s dismissive attitude toward Rosie, and when Jay asks Rosie to a party, Mer decides to take revenge. Unused to being at parties, Rosie easily gets drunk. Rather than suggesting to Rosie that she should go home, Mer tells Rosie that she needs to tell Jay how Rosie really fells about him. The drunken Rosie does so when Jay is with a bunch of guys who film Rosie’s coming on to Jay and his swift rejection of her. This and another incident make Rosie feel like an outcast and when videos of her rejection are posted online she is too embarrassed to go to school.

What Shields depicts so clearly is how social media has only exacerbated the old high school problems of typing people as “in” or as “losers”. A person like Rosie can flip from one to the other and back in an instant. Shields also shows that how much a person’s selfies and videos are “liked” in the virtual world now has an effect on how much the person is liked in the real world.

In an epilogue where the three characters tell us what has happened to them since the main action of the play, we learn that Mer and Rosie have begun greater interaction with people in the real world. Jay was helped by anonymous posts of videos of his playing hockey but has little interest in social media and continues to work hard at his sport. What Shields heavily implies but does not say outright is that leaving behind the fickle instant judgments of virtual society for the non-anonymous negotiations with the real world has made Mer and Rosie happier people.

Director Dean Patrick Fleming moves the action along at a swift pace and the cast moves between their roles as characters and narrators with precision. Michelle Rambharose creates a complex character in Meredith – defiant and superior on the outside yet on the inside all too aware of her weaknesses as a person. Dakota Jamal Wellman is a very sympathetic character as Jay. We even accept his uncontrollable fits of anger because we know about his family background, his general fears about the future and his remorse after every episode. Leah Fong makes Rosie exactly the kind of figure who is ostracized in schools. Rosie is awkward and shy and only feels worse because she is so aware of others’ opinions of her. Yet, the fact that she is not sophisticated or pretentious, seen as a flaw by some, is seen by others, like Jay, as a positive trait.

It’s too bad that Shields has to end the action with such melodrama, though that in itself will open a group to discussion, but one feels that Shields has really caught the mood of anxiety of the doubled peer pressure that teens feel in the two worlds they live in, the virtual and the real. One sign that Shields’s play hit home with its target audience of teens was that at the opening that audience remained absolutely silent and engaged for the entire play.

Instant is not meant as a play to give answers, as rather too many plays for teens do, but as a conversation starter. As such, Quebec-based Geordie Productions has already toured the play for seven months to more than 20,000 teens. It’s the kind of play about the present that deserves the widest possible audience since it will help teens and their parents to formulate questions more clearly to help navigate the ethically muddied waters of the two worlds we now live in.

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