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Toasted

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Anyone who has ever believed that the Internet truly changed his or her life really should get to know Elisa DeCarlo. There's no better way to do that than by seeing DeCarlo's show Toasted at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. It's also a show that may also open your eyes to facets of humanity - both hilarious and destructive - that you never dreamed possible.

In the one-woman show, DeCarlo relates the story of how her life was irrevocably altered by the Internet in March of 1998. A member of an Internet mailing list dedicated to alcohol "moderation management" (by which one can tame an addiction without quitting drinking entirely), DeCarlo read her e-mail one day to discover that another listmate named Larry had admitted to murdering his five-year-old daughter as a way of hurting her mother.

While it seems at times as if this might spin the show in the direction of crime drama, as DeCarlo works with the police to track down Larry and bring him to justice, that's but a small part of Toasted. DeCarlo's primary interest is exploring not only what people do when faced with a difficult situation, but how their often warped conceptions of morality can impact life in the technologically aware world. This aspect of the show proves both the most frightening and the most inescapably real.

DeCarlo's reflections about the experience are augmented with quotes from the real e-mails she received from the people involved, and the sampling she provides of responses to Larry's confession, and the actions she took because of it, cast harsh light on the cavalier attitude many take toward life and accepting the most hideous actions of others. Anyone with a long history of using the Internet will probably most easily relate to DeCarlo's troubles with those who blamed her for disrupting the online community more than they blamed Larry for killing his child, but the show's construction is tight enough to work even if your familiarity with the Internet is limited.

What occasionally stands in the way is DeCarlo. Her writing is strong and liberally laced with humor, which makes many of the edgier moments easier to swallow. Her performing style, however, is quite uneven, and she never seems as comfortable playing herself as she does the story's other characters. While everyone else, from the others on the mailing list to the police officers to the publicists and journalists she must eventually confront, is sharply defined vocally and physically, DeCarlo doesn't create for herself an equally interesting onstage persona.

She occasionally swigs from bottles of alcohol (a running joke, tying into her moderation management, involves larger and larger portions counting as one serving), but doesn't do much else to make herself stand out, particularly early in the show. This makes it more difficult to accept her as the moral crusader she eventually becomes, but DeCarlo eventually eases into herself and communicates with the audience on a more personal level. The last third of the show is the strongest, as DeCarlo struggles to come to terms with the people she only thought she knew - including herself.

Director Roger Danforth, lighting designer Jonathan Fuchs, and sound designer Chris Bertollotti nicely help complete the production. But when DeCarlo is at her best, she's enough, capable of using her own talents of insight and perception to recreate events with enough clarity to make Toasted a must-see for those who blindly devote their time - and trust - to people who may not really have others' best interests at heart.

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Midtown International Theatre Festival
Toasted
Through July 29
Running Time: 75 minutes with no intermission
WorkShop Theatre, Jewel Box Space, 4th Floor, 312 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues
Schedule and Tickets: SmartTix 212.868.4444