BLOG nobody's watching

Written and Performed by Jake Simonds
Part of the 2018 FRIGID New York Festival

Off Off Broadway, Solo Show
Ran through 3.3.18
UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place


by Emily Cordes on 3.5.18


Like Nobody's WatchingJake Simonds in nobody's watching.


BOTTOM LINE: Mixing personal narrative and survival-film tropes, nobody’s watching explores isolation in a plugged-in world.

The last two decades of our cinematic culture have witnessed a staggering rise of “isolation dramas,” a sub-category focused on tales of individual survival in harsh circumstances. We need only look to the prominence of such films as Cast Away, 127 Hours, or I Am Legend to witness the genre’s appeal; their rugged landscapes and tenacious heroes speak to something deep and primal in us. In his solo nobody’s watching, writer-performer Jeff Simonds unpacks this phenomenon, exploring personal and collective loneliness through the lens of popular isolation movies.

Fittingly, Simonds sets nobody’s watching on a self-created onstage “island,” ringed in yellow tie-line and furnished with only a folding chair and a few dry sticks. Its sole inhabitants, in winking homage to Cast Away’s Tom Hanks and his volleyball “Wilson,” are a loinclothed Simonds and “Spalding,” a talking basketball loosely inspired by American intellectual Spalding Gray. Failing in his efforts to spark kindling or conversation (despite some human-basketball banter and a clever rendition of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire”), Simonds turns to deconstructing his favorite movies, from space adventures like Gravity and The Martian to modern comedic classics like Home Alone and Caddyshack.

As spoofs of famous scenes give way to deeper reflection, Simonds uncovers some telling facts about the genre and its larger implications. The rise of isolation dramas, particularly those rooted in science fiction, post-apocalyptic, or natural disaster scenarios, occurred in tandem with that of smartphone technology, widespread Internet use, and the advent of social media—cultural milestones which, for their efficiency and promise of connection, effectively drove us further from the world and people around us. Many of the movies’ everyman heroes, and the actors depicting them, hold questionable backgrounds, evident in 127 Hours’ Aron Roston’s domestic abuse or the assault allegations surrounding such isolation-film mainstays as Kevin Spacey, James Franco, and Matt Damon. Even as these tales depict the psychological perils of isolation, they also speak to the bizarre freedom of living by, and for, oneself, whether in Tom Hanks’ joyous Cast Away fire-dance or the childlike honesty of Caddyshack’s buffoonish Spaulding.

Simonds peppers these musings with personal narrative, recalling his own mundane, humorous, or painful experiences of isolation. From solo cafe meals and lone bus commutes to memories of childhood ostracism and awkward third-wheel social scenarios, his anecdotes reveal the many small and impactful manifestations of loneliness in our lives. Simonds acknowledges the complicated pull between his need for solitude and fear of disconnection; this tension reveals itself in his nimble soccer drills—a sport connected to his lonely rural childhood—and unself-conscious solo dances. Appropriately, he often winds up the set’s rope border while telling these tales, symbolically dismantling his personal island while binding himself to it.

Despite Simonds’ vast film knowledge and unique perspectives, nobody’s watching reads less as incisive cultural analysis and more as collection of free-associative personal theories. While this speaks to the one-sided mind-wandering that isolation breeds, the show never goes quite deep enough into the complex subjects it approaches. Nonetheless, nobody’s watching offers an interestingly unconventional take on isolation and the stories we ascribe to it, prompting us to consider our own relationship to solitude—and to that weird volleyball.

( nobody's watching played at UNDER St. Marks, 94 St. Marks Place, through March 3, 2018. The running time was 55 minutes with no intermission. Performances were Thu 2/15 at 5:30, Sat 2/17 at 8:50, Mon 2/19 at 7:10, Sat 2/24 at 12:30, Mon 2/26 at 10:30, and Sat 3/3 at 3:50. Tickets were $12. For more information visit nobody's watching is written and performed by Jake Simonds.