April 24, 2014
Dark Play or Stories for Boys is the final main stage ever to be performed in Minor Theatre, so it is only fitting that is a product of this generation. Dark Play by Carlos Murillo is a meditation on online “catfishing” before “catfishing” was even in the cultural lexicon (His dated references to Hilary Duff and AOL clearly reveal that the play was written in 2007). It is unrelenting in its depiction of the darkness (and danger!) lurking behind every computer screen. Directed by Hamilton Professor of Theatre Craig Latrell, the play focuses on Nick, a 14-year-old outsider who creates an online persona named Rachel whom he uses to entice another boy, simple-minded Adam, who is just looking for love in those innocent, pre-Manti Te’o days. At first glance, Dark Play may seem like a retread of a tale as old as the desktop computer (covered in many a Lifetime movie), but the plot takes turns that are far more twisted than those in the typical “cyberbully” narrative. It proves less of a cautionary tale and more of a haunting rumination on the sorts of minds the Internet chatroom breeds.
A cross between Mark Zuckerberg and Patrick Bateman, Charlie Wilson ’16 embodies the Internet troll of nightmares as Nick, a troubled youth with a knack for manipulation. In the opening scene, as Wilson’s feet clench when a girl runs her finger down his bare chest, it is clear he is devoted to demonstrating Nick’s physicality. Nick’s motions are jerky and abrupt, his wide eyes like those of a caged animal. He speaks with the same aggression he uses to type on his computer keypad, biting off the ends of sentences and spitting them out with a sick relish. Though he communicates with the audience, Nick is in his own insular world as he makes decisions that neglect (or intentionally harm) the wellbeing of others. What is truly scary is that Nick is recognizable, his desk adorned with South Park stickers and a Red Bull. He is the devil we are all aware exists within Internet chatrooms, but personified. Wilson’s bold performance will reverberate with you for days as a portrait of a monster that is all too real.
As the vanilla wafer that Nick has on the hook, Michael Gagnon ’16 makes a believable transition from naive to hard-hearted. His character, Adam, an average California teenager, is worn down by Nick’s sadistic games, reflected in Gagnon’s fading smile fade and the spark that leaves his eyes as the play reaches its climax. Katherine Delesalle ’14 portrays Adam’s virtual love interest, Rachel, with an exaggerated sentimentality perfect for the girl of Adam’s dreams. The humanity she projects is cause to wish that she really existed for Adam instead of remaining trapped behind the screen. Andrew Gibeley ’16 has a few notable appearances but shines most brightly as a Tony Soprano-esque wise-guy of Nick’s own creation. Garbed in a fat suit and clutching a cigar, he gives a performance that’s both funny and terrifying. Kelsey Crane ’17 excels as Nick’s mother and drama teacher, and female “netizen” Allison Schuette ’16 plays SVU detective Olivia Stabler, looming like a specter above the proceedings. In the short time they are on stage, these actresses are able to create lively, full-fledged characters. Finally, Dyllon Young ’15, as a variety of comical characters in Nick’s story, provides much-needed laughs in the play’s darker moments.
The set design, arranged by Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre Andrew Holland and Resident Lighting Designer Dave Stoughton, is truly imaginative, consisting of screens that cross the stage horizontally and drop down from the ceiling with videos and images projected on them from the front and rear. The characters weave through these screens, evoking the hall of mirrors the Internet encompasses while also capturing the fractured nature of Nick’s psyche.
Based on the fascinating true story about two teenage boys from Manchester, England in 2001, Dark Play or Stories for Boys examines the dehumanizing effects of the Internet without becoming preachy, managing a healthy dose of the macabre as well. It is a daring choice of play to send the Minor Theatre out on, for its moral murkiness may be overwhelming for some. Whatever one’s opinion of the play and its slightly ambiguous ending, this show is certain to stimulate discussion. Like a computer virus, Dark Play will work its way into your brain and heart for days after the stage lights fade.