Obviously, because of my close personal ties with most of the people involved in this show, including my own sister, this is not a formal review. There's no way I can be fully objective. Still, I wanted to give some thoughts on this show, which I saw Sunday night.
The Internet has opened up a whole new array of personality disorders and fetishes. And I don't just mean that it's opened the door for mental disorders and fetishes. I mean that it's helped create them.
Gideon Productions' latest, Viral, written by Mac Rogers and directed by Jordana Williams, deals with characters that use the Internet to feed a peculiar and literally morbid fetish. Are there really people like this? Considering there's a website out there dedicated to a man who gets turned on by the sound of people brushing their teeth, I'm almost certain.
Viral focuses on a small group of people who get sexually aroused by watching people die of natural, nonviolent causes on video. After trying to lure someone on the Internet via a carefully worded website, this group finds a woman who is suicidal. They invite her to their home. They ask if they can videotape her committing suicide, then distribute the video online.
I wonder if the characters in Viral would have such a fetish if the Internet didn't exist. I mean, perhaps. But even if they did, how could they ever know that they got off on such stuff if they never had access to streaming video technology? Not only that, how would they ever be able to satisfy or cultivate such a fixation?
My suspicion is that they wouldn't. Even if they had such obsessions, the Internet has defined and cultivated them, and gives the characters comfort in the idea that there are other people out there "like them." They even refer to themselves on more than one occasion as a community.
But Viral isn't interested in being a treatise against the evils of the World Wide Web. It's interested in dealing with a very small, unique set of characters that happen to use the premise of the Internet to justify and enable a horrid mutual addiction.
Everyone in the cast, which includes Kid Sister Rebecca Comtois (who got props from folks after the performance I saw, saying they no longer see her as just "my kid sister"), Adventure Quest star The Kent Meister, Jonathan Pereira, Rattlers vet Amy Lynn Stewart and Infectious Opportunity vet Matthew Trumbull, is amazing. No one is afraid of portraying him or herself as weak or disgusting (since every character is, in his or her own unique way).
Plus, no one is a complete ghoul. Even a potential producer/presenter of the proposed film isn't so much a stereotypical sleaze (although he is sleazy) as he is a pragmatic businessman trying to explain to amateurs the reality of the market they're trying to enter. His argument is actually hard to counter.
I think what I find so amazing about Viral is that it's such a unique story for a premise that is very entrenched in our modern culture. Which is a very fancy and pretentious way of saying I find it amazing that no one's thought to write a play like this.
Okay, that's a bit disingenuous. I absolutely know why no one's decided to tackle this story and subject matter. It's very dark, and very disturbing, and not in a fun, "edgy New York theatre" way. Although it's certainly funny (and perhaps, judging from audience responses so far, funnier than the creators had expected), and even being billed in some circles as a dark comedy, it is most definitely not a comedy, dark or otherwise. It's a show that would be either a garish carnie geek show or a glib, tasteless and unfunny comedy in hands of less skilled, less experienced and less emotionally mature theatre-makers.
As it happens, Gideon & Co. manage to walk the razor-thin line of comedy and tragedy with this material, acknowledging the absurdity of its characters without mocking them, dealing with the horrific nature of its theme without being heavy-handed and maudlin.
Viral is a very good, very disturbing play about a subject matter that many may find amusing at first, but will get over such amusement as the play winds down to its nerve-wracking climax. Even though I've only seen 2% of its output this year, I'm pretty sure it'll be one of the highlights of the 2009 Fringe Festival.
Viral is playing at the SoHo Playhouse on 15 Vandam Street as part of the New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets go here.
Still looking for soft core material on YouTube,
James "Polite Reprobate" Comtois