One of the great opportunities of the Minnesota Fringe Festival is getting a pulse on where things seem to be going in our culture. Naturally, that means one must go to young artists with a sense of truth-seeking as opposed to agenda-seeking. Two wonderfully entertaining productions—The Flashlight Zone: 20 Science Fiction Plays in One Hour and Swipe Right—fit that bill perfectly and I would submit that these works are where the real cutting edge in theatrical avant-garde has actually moved to. Audiences for performances I attended were laughing almost nonstop. But they were also moved.
The Flashlight Zone writer, Michael Weingartner, has written 20 short sci-fi scenes that make light of technology at some points, but then caution us to be on the lookout for its hidden dangers as the century unfolds. He knows his stuff. A diverse cast expertly conveys a wide range of problems, situations, and feelings. Ideas from same-sex marriage to high-tech stalking make for a thought-provoking hour of what may lie ahead for all of us. As for you who think you won’t live long enough to experience that, Weingartner makes us present to the fact that Artificial Intelligence (AI), surveillance, and centralized information have already been manifesting. He is an excellent young writer who understands cold technology versus what it is to be a flesh and blood human being. I hope he continues to work out his thoughts in dramatic form. Weingartner may be actually be heralding a new dimension in playwriting.
Science fiction is generally thought to be suitable for film and page, but not for stage. However, these actors from Flash Grenade Productions disprove that. What a terrific ensemble they are: Jada Beulah, Nichole Carey, Justin Betancourt, Siarde EvansChristoffer, Mitch Vosejpka, and Amand Kay Thomm. Director Megan Guidry has crisply directed the piece. The timing and pacing are dynamic.
Another group of young actors who clarify what for so many of us is confusing and painful belong to Blinking Eye Theatre. They too comment vividly on technology with Swipe Right, written and directed by Riley Parham. This irreverent look at dating apps is both hilarious and heartbreaking in its portrayal of the built-in, if not institutionalized, derision for young heterosexuals who simply want to find someone to love and be loved in return. Selfies of penises. Unfair projections of bad experiences from a previous mate onto a new potential mate. Ridiculous pick-up lines. Virtual sexual experiences in lieu of actual sexual experiences. We wonder if these gyrations have a debilitating effect on our capacity and potential to actually love!
As anti-romantic as the realm of computerized hooking up actually is, six young actors are simply marvelous in their embodiment of real humanity in the electronic jungle: Brad Krieger, Melissa Miller, Brian Lenz, Molly Conrad, Alex J. Smith and Claire Avery. It’s fascinating how their characters all eventually pair up at the end of the play and we end up feeling really invested in and caring for these young adults.
Anyone whose ever been bedeviled by online dating or just plain old booty call hookups will find Swipe Right has brutal and bittersweet truths to tell. One can spend alot of precious time in pursuit of that one person we just absolutely know is “the one” and then they just cut off. It can be devastating. Parham, who like Weingartner, is genuinely cutting edge, has clearly and deeply inquired into this problem. I hope he too will keep on exploring it. The long-term effects of the Tinder and Grinder phenomenons have yet to be fully examined. Swipe Right may be a beginning to that inquiry. Let’s hope so.
The Flashlight Zone: 20 Science Fiction Plays in One Hour
Through Aug. 11
Theatre in the Round, 245 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Through Aug. 11
Foss Center, Augsburg Mainstage, 625 22nd Ave. S. Minneapolis
Minnesota Fringe Festival
Through Aug. 12