Written and Performed by Richard Saudek; Directed by Wes Grantom
Produced by Crowded Outlet
Off Off Broadway, Multimedia Solo Show
Runs through 10.7.18
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue
by Ran Xia on 9.11.18
Richard Saudek in beep boop. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
BOTTOM LINE: This multimedia-saturated, fast-paced clowning show is a hilarious yet ultimately poignant exploration of loneliness in this technology-obsessed world.
An expose on the loneliness that devours us in the age of interconnectivity? Seems like an overdone theme. Yet Richard Saudek's beep boop (created with sound designer Jesse Novak and director Wes Grantom) dissects this most relevant topic in simultaneously the silliest, and the most profound, way possible. And boy if it doesn't hit all the right spots. The children in the audience certainly have a ball: witness their infectiously unfiltered laughter of pure delight at the ridiculous man who makes duck face at various screens. Some adults, however, might find the piece a bit harder to swallow, and let out a sigh of "for realz."
If theatre holds a mirror to reality, beep boop's is a funhouse mirror that exaggerates, easily pulling you into this bizarre yet all-too-real fever dream of "a guy, left to his own devices." The sweet word play in the show's tag line is of course, spot on. Donning silent film-era makeup and carrying out comedic physicalities in the style of Charlie Chaplin, our nameless protagonist is first introduced as a caricature of the Internet age everyman. In a swift sequence accompanied by "Also sprach Zarathustra" (perhaps more familiar as the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey), we see the birth of the man as a primate, whose spine straightens as he evolves into Homo sapien, only to eventually become bent once more when his eyes become glued to a smartphone screen.
In his natural habitat the man gets overtaken by hunger, which prompts him to prepare an elaborate feast. (For those of you who enjoy miming, this itself is satisfying.) We watch him defrost, chop, julienne, grate, and operate the oven. Nora Kaye's live Foley effects are a character in their own right. Made up and dressed in the same style, Kaye becomes a crucial and irreplaceable presence alongside the man, whose dependence on her becomes a commentary on our own dependence on technology. The subsequent feast underlines how the man's hunger cannot be relieved by actual carbs or protein, but by "likes" from his online followers. My mind immediately drifted to "Nosedive," an episode from Black Mirror, the dystopian show that satirizes our social media-obsessed culture.
But beep boop is a creative and relentless parody not just about how much the digital world has affected our lifestyle, but about the unique isolation it has created. One of the simplest moments is also a crowd favorite—as Saudek uses two fingers to "walk" across the cityscape screensaver on his laptop, Bobby Vinton's "Mr. Lonely" plays, the familiar tune taking on a tinge of fitting ridiculousness. Struck by loneliness, the man uses his device to find love. And here's the one moment of audience participation, as Saudek brings someone on stage to be his partner: they start a life together, and even have a baby, until the relationship goes sour and the man is brokenhearted and bitter once more.
beep boop also eviscerates the onslaught of YouTube stars and their tutorials of everything, from beauty regimes for faces to beauty regimes for butts. Being increasingly stimulated by what the Internet dictates, we also witness the man's integration into the digital. Driscoll Otto's video and projection design creates a nightmarish sequence where we see simultaneously the man IRL and online, and the co-dependence of the one persona with the other. Yet this also becomes a turning point, the beginning of his awakening from such a zombie-like existence. Meanwhile, a mysterious package arrives, containing a secret that will be revealed as the journey of our protagonist continues.
If silent film-era comedy and Black Mirror had a baby, it'd look like beep boop. It dazzles with its ingenious creativity, presents a relevant issue, and at the same time, includes an element of hope. In a quick 75 minutes, the show offers much more than it seems at first glance. It's truly one of the most entertaining and thought-provoking pieces I've seen in a long time.
(beep boop plays at HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, through October 7, 2018. The running time is 75 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7, Saturdays at 2 and 7, and Sundays at 2. Tickets are $25 and are available at here.org, for more information visit crowdedoutlet.org.)
beep boop is written and performed by Richard Saudek. Original Compositions and Sound Design by Jesse Novak. Directed by Wes Grantom. Set, Light Projection Design by Driscoll Otto. Live Foley by Nora Kaye. Assistant Director is Jake Sellers. Costume Design by Maddie Peterson. Additional Sound and Foley Design by Brendan Aanes. Producer is Chad Goodridge. Stage Manager is Rachel Kaufman.