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Seen / By Everyone

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - June 7, 2016

Meg MacCary, Enormvs Muñoz,
and Alesandra Nahodil
Photo by Carl Skutsch

You might expect Seen / By Everyone, the new work at HERE by the collective known as Five On A Match, to be a comic satire, drawing as it does from actual postings on various forms of social media. Even the physical setting, a karaoke bar with the audience members seated at club tables on two sides of the performance space, suggests a fun evening of catty eavesdropping. Surprisingly, however, what unfolds through disjointed conversations (its creators refer to it as a "collage" rather than a play) is an emotionally powerful portrait of love and loss, and of individuals coming to grips with both.

Kudos, to begin with, to the members of Five On A Match (Matthew Cohn, Amir Darvish, Meg MacCary, Enormvs Muñoz, and Jen Taher) for both the tremendous amount of effort they must have put in to pull together a coherent whole from the world of sources available to them. And even more plaudits for the respect with which they have treated the revelatory material, representative of real if unidentified people trying to make sense of their lives in the public forum of social media.

The bar where the evening unfolds is called Acheron, named for the mythological "river of pain" across which souls are ferried to the underworld. Two of these souls, each of whom has died suddenly and unexpectedly, are seated at, or, in the case of one of them, sprawled across the bar among the living mourners. The conversations that unfold around them tell of shock, pain, fear, and longing over the deaths, as well as other stories of loneliness and failed relationships.

Fortunately, not all is unrelentingly bleak. There are touches of humor, foolishness, self-indulgence, bar gossip, and karaoke singing to mitigate the core of sadness. The production is also blessed with a pitch perfect cast that includes the members of Five On A Match, along with another half dozen performers, almost all of whom are experienced Equity actors. They have done an excellent job of developing their characters out of the raw material of Twitter, Facebook, and other messaging sites, so that we are able to differentiate among them and follow their separate story lines through the evening.

Everything about the production works because everything has been carefully planned, down to the monogramed matchbooks, flowers, and candles on the café tables, along with the physical movement of the cast members across the stage, the selection of the karaoke numbers and appropriately non-professional singing, as well as Oana Botez's costumes, Ray Sun Ruey-Horng's video projections, and Christopher Heilman's set design. All told, Seen / By Everyone decidedly rises above its non-linear performance roots to tell an emotionally honest and compelling story that sticks in the mind long after viewing it.

Seen / By Everyone
Through June 25
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, one block below Spring Street
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