Theater Review | Thru July 13

Theater Review
An alternate universe exists through the Internet. People can get onto the World Wide Web and, through its anonymity, create completely different personas. Is this a lie, or merely a form of entertainment? If someone believes that lie, is it your fault?
-Dave Ruark as phidias8-

phidias8, a world premiere by Michael Whistler, which is the first of two plays being presented at the Phoenix in the National New Play Network, explores the cyber world and the “connections” it makes.

Phidias was one of the greatest sculptors of ancient Greece, whose work is known only through copies since none of his originals still exist. Eric (Dave Ruark) is a 39-year-old single gay man who has just been hooked up to the Internet, and he adopts this master’s name as his handle (“AOL added the 8”). Eric is a loner by circumstance, and when he plugs into his new AOL chat rooms and is introduced to the magic of IMs, he feels he is really making “connections” with other people.

However, Eric’s profile is false — he sets himself up to be a hunky college student. He utilizes Google to make himself seem more educated in conversations. He doesn’t know what he is looking for, so he goes surfing and develops a penchant for Martha Stewart’s Web site (a perfect metaphor for how fake Eric’s Internet existence really is).

Along the way, Eric makes two significant connections: with an older man named Richard in Baltimore (Ron Spencer) and with a dominant, screen name Viking (Charles Goad).

Here we get a sticky triangle. Richard has feelings for Eric, who he has come to care for through Eric’s false representation; Eric opens up to Viking completely, baring his true personality; Viking, however, is NOT what he seems to be.

Whistler’s script captures the Internet feel, utilizing phrases and experiences any Web surfer would recognize. This familiarity is a comfort and a good opportunity for the audience to laugh at itself as well as the characters, because standing back and seeing it happen to someone else makes us aware of our own cyber vulnerabilities.

Goad’s character gets bogged down towards the end with a couple excessively long monologues — any regular IM user who has argued with someone virtually knows how hard long tirades are to get out; the IM even cuts you off after so many lines. But otherwise the interactions are realistic — many of the relationships are cybersex or built on false pretenses — and often laugh-out-loud funny.

The cast, under the direction of Bryan Fonseca, is a roster of Indianapolis heavy hitters. The actor who gets some of the best characters is R. Brian Noffke. Though everyone except Ruark does some double duty as random pings, Noffke never settles into one main character. But his interpretations of Martha Stewart and a Cowboy, as well as a host of others, are exceptional.

Paper planes are used to represent one IM user pinging another, and the stage is covered with them by intermission: There are a lot of connections being made here. But the question you come out of the show with is, are these connections real? A super twist ending will leave you contemplating your Internet-only friendships for some time.

phidias8 continues through July 13. The second play in the Network, SPAIN, will open this weekend. For tickets and show dates, call 635-PLAY.

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