Paper City Phoenix begins on top of a cellular tower, which a young woman, Brenna, has chosen as the perfect location for her epic suicide after being deserted by her online soul mate. She is making a video to broadcast on the internet, and as she is explaining her rationale to her audience, the tower is struck by lightning and she blacks out. So begins a sci-fi dark comedy that brings six people into end-of-world relationships with each other and the internet itself.
Earthy Brenna wakes up able to channel anything off the internet, and goes to visit her erstwhile friend, neurotic Gale, whose brother Paul, also Brenna’s supposed “soul mate,” has disappeared. Gale is coping by sublimating her grief—trying to prevent completely losing her brother by printing out the entire internet.
But before she and Brenna can fully resolve their conflict about who’s more aggrieved over Paul’s disappearance, two NSA-type agents (playing broadly for laughs) knock down the door. Since Gale was printing out the internet, she started, sensibly, with the beginning of the alphabet, which includes red flags such as the Anarchist Cookbook and Al-Qaeda.
All this is great—the premise works because it takes a backseat to the conflictual relationships between the characters, and their knowing sense of the lack of the real in relationships that take place mostly virtually.
The first half being so strong—up until the first climax, emphasized the tedium of the second half, as the story tries to tie together its own loose ends as we cut back and forth from one group (virtual Sophie’s non-choice) to another (the world has been cast vaguely into darkness, and something—we’re never sure what—is the only thing that can save it!)—in a classic tension-building movie technique that falls completely flat.
Worse, the interesting human dynamic now takes a backseat to a clichéd sci-fi story, complete with internet as liminal place and personified with a robotic voice. reducing the characters to pat interactions, like a “charismastic” leader type berating the techno-cop.
But the ending brings back the focus of the first half, and leaves us with an authentically hopeful mood. This is due to the strength of the lead actresses, Stevie Chaddock and Jamie Bragg, with whom we are now left alone.
Maybe the staging could have been modified, having the mirroring scenes take place concurrently. Having the two sets of actors move on and off “screen” slowed the action down. Still the first half was so good and the last scene nicely redemptive, earning Paper City Phoenix its third star.
Tympanic Theater Presents
Paper City Phoenix
The Alley Stage
4147 N. Broadway
Written by Walt McGough
Directed by Rebecca Willingham
Monday 8 p.m.
Thursday 8 p.m.
Friday 8 p.m.
Saturday 8 pm
Sun 2 p.m. Mon 8 pm
Running time 1 hour-fifty-five minutes (with an intermission)
Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 1-929-329-2934 or firstname.lastname@example.org
To see what else this company is doing, visit www.tympanictheatre.org
to see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at ” Paper City Phoenix”.