Left to right, from top: Michael Urie, Ann Harada, Colby Lewis, & Constance Shulman. Image: Studios of Key West.
By Drew Larimore
Produced & directed by Stephen Kitsakos
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
One year after theatres shut down, we have seen dozens of virtual productions, and more than a few explicitly using digital conferencing technology. Perhaps the most effective virtual plays lean into the format, exploiting the limitations and the undeniable level of identification we all bring to characters existing within the tiled screens.
In Smithtown, Louisville-born playwright Drew Larimore seizes upon this moment of social distance and a peak reliance on communications technology to reflect upon exactly that dependency and how it doesn’t always bring out the best in humanity.
Cybershaming is nothing new. We have struggled with it for quite some time and it’s hard to gauge how successfully we are coping with it. Larimore imagines a circumstance in which four separate people grapple with their relationship to a suicide that resulted from cyber actions both intentional and inadvertent. Ian (Michael Urie), an online personality called Text Angel (Ann Harada), Eugene (Colby Lewis), an interdisciplinary artist, and Cindy (Constance Shulman), who is welcoming a new couple to the neighborhood, are revealed to be connected to the tragedy in surprising ways that examine contrasting roles in online communication and levels of responsibility that are troubling to confront.
We seek some small revenge but fail to consider that once we hit “Send” we have relinquished control. But did we relinquish accountability? When we made the choice to carry digital computers in our pockets we willingly sacrificed privacy and also stepped into a curious voyeuristic position which places the consequences at a distance. How much has this disrupted our moral compass?
So Larimore makes no apologies about the format – it is arguably a more appropriate environment than the stage, a theme and context that benefits from the digital distance. Three of the four characters knowingly present into a device of some kind, and perhaps the one character that doesn’t suffer somewhat in comparison, except here is where the quality of performance picks up the ball. That moment of awkwardness is soon overridden by Constance Shulman’s tender exploration of profound grief and loss. Colby Lewis builds a facade of creative braggadocio that is equal parts self-promotion and elusiveness but is careful to let the cracks show just enough. Ann Harada’s character is also a facade, a digital delivery person who sees for the first time that social media is not always facetious. Michael Urie is a lecturer who uses his platform to fashion an impressive rationalization of immature behavior.
Smithtown has been produced by The Studios of Key West, a multi-discipline Florida cultural center, so is this theatre? It is listed on IMDB, and you may recognize Urie and Shulman from popular television shows such as Ugly Betty and Orange Is the New Black, and Harada and Lewis boast several credits there as well. Certainly, the technical aspects of the digital filming are as good as I’ve seen, but Larimore’s work here feels like a play, albeit one that follows you into your supposedly private and safe home, where it refuses to leave you feeling cozy or comforted.
Available to stream through Midnight March 13
Click here for tickets
The Studios of Key West
533 Eaton Street
Key West, FL 33040
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.