Right off the top, Flashing Lights looks and sounds like parody and gets lots of laughs but this show becomes a disturbing dystopia by taking our image-ridden, screen-obsessed culture to its logical conclusion.
A domestic scene of Peter (Dan Watson), wife Shannon (Miranda Calderon) and teenage daughter Ter (Liz Peterson) at breakfast is familiar. Everyone’s glued to a screen – a smartphone, a laptop, a tablet — as multiple streams of music and talk play over the conversations. Ter, wearing a monster mask, turns her cell on Dad, eating Kellogg’s Corn Pops from a bowl and singing along to “Take it Easy,” a song recalled from a long-ago road trip when Ter was a toddler.
Somehow the cellphone video of Peter munching and singing gets posted on Instagram and goes viral as “Cereal Guy.” Peter, an unemployed writer, goes to pitch a story to an editor looking for content – free content. He advises Peter to turn his story idea into a list. By the time his meeting is over, Peter has become a meme. Hashtag Cereal Guy is on everyone’s radar. “You’ve had 20 million views,” someone tells him.
What follows is a fast-moving illustration of the electronic age predicted by Marshal McLuhan, who appears on the scrim in a video interview where he’s predicting a time when everyone’s under surveillance and everything moves at the speed of light. “Things happen very quickly, there is no time to get accustomed to anything.”
Live video, handheld cellphones capturing every move, an iPad face that switches from a happy image to a sad one, a heavy techno soundscape and ever-changing imagery on the scrim in front of the stage make for a largely entertaining, but inevitably distracting 90-minute show.
Talk of how “you’re just an image, a discarnate image,” segues to the making of Dad as a celebrity, then a pitchman, then a contender for leader of the Liberal party, then a bit of a porn star and finally a “dead meme.”
Shannon disappears – on a venture to leave biology and become some sort of electronic essence. Meanwhile, Ter goes back to nature, taking on the body of a deer.
Gags, along the lines of “you’ve had some work done, some upgrades,” keep up the pace and the staging is more than clever. These performers are all adeptly physical, which they have to be to keep up with the velocity of the ever-changing imagery.
Needless to say, it becomes hard to focus on any single aspect of this theatre piece, such as the plot, but one comes away from it pleasantly buzzed.
Flashing Lights: A High-Tech Fable About Our Digital Lives
Created by the company with text by Guillermo Verdecchia
Co-produced by Ahuri Theatre & Bad New Days Performance
Directed by Adam Paolozza
Performed by Liz Peterson, Miranda Calderon, Dan Watson, Adam Paolozza and Guillermo Verdecchia
Until October 22 at the Theatre Centre, Toronto