Today (in this country, anyway) kids go off to join the Internet the first chance they get, and the parents lie awake wondering what will happen to them, even though they're still living under the same roof. Because, nowadays, the big bad world is just down the hall.
Which isn't to say that growing up is any less potentially funny than it ever was before. Lia Romeo was commissioned to write a script about social networking back in 2011, and now her play Connected is enjoying its very funny maiden voyage. With a gaggle of great young performers, it has lots of laughs, and nearly as much genuine pathos, along with lots of awkward teenaged moments. There's also a fair helping of adventurous stagingwhich, physically, might seem better suited for TV or the movies. Or YouTube, perhaps I should say.
The staging is the biggest problem, though it's not a deal-breakera three-sided carousel-style stage rotates back and forth, but even that's not the problem, itself. It's a small rotating stage and, though it's built for just one production, it seems to work very smoothly, evenly, and with absolute quietness. And, in a couple of weeks, they'll just tear it all down: a perfect example of the Zen of theater. A flawless achievement by Scenic Designer Mark Wilson and Technical Director Bryce Allen.
More precisely, the problem seems to be with all the different set-specific costumes that are required to conform to each new playing area that are causing the delays, as far as I can tell. But it's one of those cases of theater trying to do something new, so I really can't complain. If you can handle the waits, the effect is pretty delightful as "screens" of scenes shuttle back and forth across the "fourth wall," including a couple of goofy, magical visits to the World of Warcraft, behind a shimmering scrim.
Glamorous Caitlin Mickey smoothly plays down to the level of frumpy, hopeless teenager in two roles on stage, but it's a little confusing when she appears elsewhere as a third character, one of the "mean girls" at a well-to-do high school in the suburbs. A wig might be in order for that appearance (because, of course, you can't have too many frantic moments while changing costumes back there in the dark). Cooper Shaw plays her mother, and a shop manager, and a weary geometry teacher, all to bittersweet perfection. And Jack Dryden is hilarious and wise, whether as Mickey's gay brother, or Shaw's prankish student, or as a party boy with a bottle of vodka to solve any problem.
Jake Bucher is excellent, too, playing the hapless nerd, as is Helene Estes as a stuck-up high school girl, surveying her shattered illusions of the social network. And Pete Winfrey is a lot of fun just seeming to be nonplussed at everything going on around him, as the local heartthrob.
Chuck Harper directs, drawing great performances from all of his cast. And, obviously, he must be aware that there are long delays here and there, in the fast-changes backstage, before the next set is rotated into view. I'm guessing the other actors are furiously helping Ms. Mickey and Mr. Dryden and others into different get-ups. But (who knows?) maybe some of the delays are scenery-related, too. I couldn't tell on the first viewing, though I'm tempted to go back for a second time, it's still so much fun.
Commissioned by PNC Bank, Connected runs through February 23, 2013, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 South Grand Blvd., a block south of the Fox Theatre, and a mile north of I-64. Reservations are strongly recommended, owing to the size of the house. For information go to www.hotcitytheatre.org or call (314) 289-4063.
* Denotes Member, Actors Equity Association, the association of professional actors and stage managers in the US.