Okay, the first thing you need to know about Smarter Than Phones, an experimental theater piece put together by Fuse Theater and included in the Fertile Ground Festival, is that it’s guilty of false advertising. On paper it sounds awesome: A “fully staged world premiere” in which audience members are encouraged to bring laptops, smart phones, Furbies, et cetera, and “leave them on to interact with the show.”
The blurb on the Fertile Ground website promises audience members will watch their online alter-egos come to life and “see untruths unfold…to see yourself materialize on stage.” It also promises to “explore the confrontations between your friends who have never met in person – and maybe never will.” Did I attend hoping to see girls from my high school who are now married/pregnant/launching terrible upstart photography businesses, used as character fodder in a theater production? Yes, I did.
Maybe my expectations were out of line.
By “you” and “your friends,” they don’t mean you as in you, the reader, the audience member. They mean pictures of people (or things, in some instances) they found in a ten-minute Google image search, that they think are funny. While they ply the audience with free beer, the performers pull up images and deliver monologues about them (some scripted, some improvised).
Are some of the monologues really freaking good? Actually, YES. Sara Fay Goldman and Rusty Tennant especially seem to be masters of character work, and Goldman in particular was very convincing as a Jewish mother trying desperately to access a Facebook album, and as a ghetto girl wearing a skin-tight leopard dress and basically being hilarious.
Bottom line? I’d go see Goldman and Tennant act in a real theater production any day, but this show only had about 5 percent theater. Basically, Smarter Than Phones feels like the post-collegiate equivalent to being trapped in a nerd’s dorm room, listening to him or her talk incessantly about RPG’s and play “funny” (read: creepy) YouTube videos, while you silently scold yourself for thinking this would be a more fun way to spend Friday night than doing your calculus homework alone.
Lest you think I’m kidding, before the show started, they literally pulled up the website HotOrNot.com and encouraged audience members to make snarky comments about the people pictured—many of whom are likely dead now, because the website is that old. The free beer comes more from necessity than generosity, methinks.