Nick Ishimaru Directs a Poem to Digital Death
by Evelyn Arevalo
If we die tomorrow, how do we consolidate our images: the one our friends and family will have? Who will hear the messages on our Instagram, on Facebook? Director Nick Ishimaru beautifully dissects death in the digital age, providing insights into public expressions grief.
In Theatre of Yugen’s “Seen/By Everyone,” we are immersed in a dimly lit bar that represents the digital world. Seven figures stand still, wearing sparkly silver masks. Recently deceased Maggie (incredible Adrian Deane) watches sharply as these mysterious figures begin to move in a slow ballet.
Maggie’s white dress is blinding in the dark room, white scarf on her neck dangling like a noose. The digital avatars of her living friends and family distress Maggie. Trapped in a digital dimension, Maggie is reduced to fragmented memories of her online persona, repeating phrases of past memories.
We are stuck in her surreal trance. We shuttle back and forth between Maggie’s vivacious aunt Helen (spot on J.J. Van Name), her childhood friend Roxy (soulful Stephanie Whigham), and neurotic, hypochondriac Art (impressive Alan Coyne). Maggie’s friends and family create new “content” to remember her.
Sound Designer Ella Cooley and Lighting Designer Brittany Mellerson brilliantly blend a mysterious ambiance with touching audio voicemails. Projections created by Eteyna Trinidad evoke a captivating and bitter nostalgia. When Maggie’s selfie-addicted friend Elizabeth (multifaceted Annika Bergman) comes in like a storm, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, I have to laugh. Maggie’s friends are using Facebook to grieve in a new way.
Stoic bartender (serious Enormvs Munoz) protects Maggie’s memories, transporting us to childhood with the swish of a sparkly fan. We don’t just hear about Maggie, we are invited into her intimate memories.
Maggie remains young and beautiful, while her friends age, get pregnant, and die. Amusingly, Maggie’s hopeless romantic gay brother John (hilarious Paul Rodrigues) finds his Israeli prince. Yet, one motto returns: “The only way to cope with grief, is by remembering, not forgetting.”
From a play about death, we keep learning about life. Social media now influences how we deal with the loss of dear friends. When so much of our interactions, pictures, and moments remain crystallized online, how do we cope with messages from loved ones?
“Seen/By Everyone” by Theatre of Yugen, written by Five on a Match, directed by Nick Ishimaru, at NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa Street, San Francisco 94110, through Sunday, October 21, 2018. Info: theatreofyugen.org
Cast: Annika Bergman, Alan Coyle, Adrian Deane, Enormvs Munoz, Paul Rodrigues, J.J. Van Name, and Stephanie Whigham.
Banner photo: Annika Bergman and Adrian Deane