Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Residents of Craigslist
Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville is hosting a return to the cyber-village from Hell, but tickets are already scarce. Maybe you can score one or two by checking on some kind of local clearinghouse for social media ...
The show is part Miss Lonelyhearts, part Lord of the Flies, and part Winesburg, Ohio (by Sherwood Anderson), and as funny and horrifying and sharp and overwhelming as it is touching and just plain weird. I loved it.
Actor Will Bonfiglio started the project, looking on Craigslist.com for possible audition material, and then fellow performer Lucy Cashion helped him find the most "end of your rope" postings, arranging them all into something like a playrude, cacophonous, yearning, and very beautiful at times. And somehow, they've come up with a meta-narrative, and action that undeniably rises to all the monstrous heights of human desire.
Ms. Cashion also directs the revival, and it can be as remarkably precise and classical in its presentation as it is insane and despairing of the modern world. The six performers are, often as not, an unbreakable chorus, as when presenting the "all caps" phrases (barking a description of a pool slide, "STILL WORKS!") or gracefully embodying an animal up for adoption. But when they're not forged into a single, cohesive force, they're a furious collective of cheating husbands and yearning ex-mistresses, and everything else people are confessing about these days, in bolder and bolder terms. (In a way I'm grateful for the staging: having a whole chorus recite the dirtiest sexualized want-ads somehow takes nearly all of the anguish and offense out of it.)
But as with any uncontrolled form of self-expression, there are also the Craigslist enforcers (like Natasha Toro), giving politely insistent advice on grammar, taking extremely personal photographs, and more. In the final ten minutes or so, Ellie Schwetye stands on a chair and shouts like a Christian Cassandra, against all the corruption, while the others march around chanting ritualized behaviors from a Catholic church service. It's an impossibly primal (but unmistakably American) mini-epic.
The script, of course, is a wondrous mosaic of every modern joy and pain of the Internetyou can see the arrangement of the postings at www.eratheatre.orgbut somehow putting human faces on all that, and putting human emotions into the stark words, becomes a rabbit-hole to the bottom of all the pride and grief of the modern mind. And, stepping back for just a moment, who knew people had so much time for sex?
Ryan Wiechmann has a great comic reading of a clever ad for an old 1970s-'80s style coffee table that has been the platform for a lot of drug abuse ("I'm 40 and I can't keep up with my 'disco table' anymore!") and another bizarre interlude from "Missed Connections" where he pines for a barista. Ms. Toro has moments of pathos, including one where she's truly "just seeking a gal pal." And Mitch Eagles has scenes of intense yearning, as when he advertises for a girlfriend, in spite of having a wife and children (and elsewhere, when he discovers a mysterious pair of underwear in the locker room at his gym).
There are several "pick yourself up" motivational postings culled from Craigslist, acted out with outlandish conviction. But the whole piece rises to art in strange and unexpected ways, as when the six actors dance with invisible partners in a big circle on stage, or when Ms. Toro tries vainly to explain why she's searching for a long-lost cousin. And there are sections that just leave you totally mystified, as when Cara Barresi describes a strange vision had by her grandmother, inspiring an enthusiastic rash of supernaturally-oriented replies.
Residents of Craigslist will be showcased on September 24, 2015 at 7:30 p.m. only, at the Metcalf Theatre, SIUE, as part of the university's "X-Fest." For more information on this and other shows, visit siuexfest.com/performances.shtml.