Ask Aunt Susan by Seth Bockley, Comedy
November 17th 2011, Owen Theatre, New Stages Amplified
In this fast-paced, 4G world in which we live, new age nuances and technological trappings invade our every living moment. Seth Bockley’s biting and modernist new comedy Ask Aunt Susan is a captivating symbol of technology’s destruction of individual identity.
Ask Aunt Susan centers around a young male web developer on the brink of a breakthrough – an online advice site where anyone in the world can spill their innermost secrets to the anonymous Aunt Susan and receive advice and words of comfort. When the website’s popularity spirals out of control, Aunt Susan finds himself in a virtual reality of trouble. Aunt Susan must struggle with his manipulative boss, his erratic ex-girlfriend, and the question of what is real and what is technology.
Watching this show felt almost like watching a dream. The minimalist set features a looming pole that dominates the back of the stage; shadows of people and codes stain the stage in a sort of eerie way that made me feel as if I was being watched. Set designer Kevin Depinet does a masterful job of creating an all-consuming techno atmosphere. The actors are dressed in street attire, and their present-day, understated clothing made me believe near everything their characters said, even when pieces of the story feel a little poetically tragic. With only five actors in the play, the ensemble work is predictably yet pleasingly fluid. Aunt Susan himself is the backbone of the show, and at times it seems he struggles a bit under the weight of the piece. Albeit, actor Andy Carey deserves kudos for never leaving the stage once during the entire 90-minute performance, but his demure, passive moping gets a little tiresome to watch. However, I think that he had a fully-formed character, whether or not we like what he has to say. Every character is played very believably. An outstanding performance by Justine Turner playing all three waitresses that Aunt Susan encounters throughout the show (each with their own underlying message about the world at large) truly ties each bit of the story together. Turner changes fluidly from middle-aged diner waitress to dominatrix barista to tenderhearted server with a secret maniacal side. The play is bookended with Turner’s characters.
Director Joanie Shultz translates the cyber-crazed vision of this play in the clearest way possible. The only moment I took issue with was one of the first images of the play: An elegantly clad couple waltzing across the floor of the stage that has not been set yet. It is supposed to be foreshadowing, I think, but it only comes across as confusing.
It took me a few days to decide if I like this play or not. I have discovered that I heartily enjoyed it. I suppose the tech lingo and idealist visions of Internet anarchy get to be a bit angsty at times, but the truth of the play, the true loss of individuality and control, is actually beautiful. I appreciate that this story has bookends. The play ends with Aunt Susan, in the midst of the total ruin of his cyberland, saving true love, something too archaic to have a date of discovery. The old intertwines seamlessly with the new, and life will continue. If you want an evening of mental stimulation amply peppered with laughs, go see this show. The only thing left to ask Aunt Susan is where to buy tickets.