An Impending Sense of Doom

doom01.jpg (L-R): Bix Bettwy as Scientist X, Chongsi Chang as Scientist B, Jason Grimste as Scientist A (Photo by Jane Stein)

Reviewed: July 13, 2011
Venue: 3LD (NYC)
Producers: Subjective Theatre Company
Running Time: 90 minutes
July 13 - July 16, 2011
Part of Ice Factory 2011

Creative Team:
Written by Colab (a collaboration of writers led by Julia Holleman)
Directed by Jeffrey Whitted

The apocalypse has arrived, and it is delivered by the hands of Facebook.

At least that's the premise of An Impending Sense of Doom, Subjective Theatre Company's take on the ills of the modern world. Set in a post-disaster universe, the survivors live in the Sanctuary, a computer-mediated haven where people sport a Signia chip that encodes their personal data and tracks their social status. (Loss of social status for various "crimes" results in a loss of certain privileges, such as shopping in the supermarket near your home.)

Garrison (James Bentley), who works for the Signia company, discovers that someone has created an alternate network, the UR-Cloud, which is odd because no one is presumed to be alive outside the Sanctuary. Driven by the desire to find out the source of the UR-Cloud and convinced that his superiors are lying to him and everyone about the true nature of their existence, Garrison heads out to The Pile, the vast landfill created by the Sanctuary's garbage, drawn on by the radio voice of The Gentle Leader, head of a revolutionary cadre.

In the meantime, Declan (Toby Levin), an orphan in The Pile, is the actual creator of the UR-Cloud, which turns out to be a game in which everyone can connect with everyone else all day long every day. He makes his way to the Sanctuary, where he is picked up by April (Alix Fenhagen), Garrison's abandoned wife. Declan, with April's help, worms his way into Signia, eventually taking over the company and refining the UR-Cloud into an all-encompassing social media game where people will lose status, and thus privileges, if they ever stop playing.

Meanwhile, Garrison, with The Gentle Leader, makes his way back to the Sanctuary to rescue April and blow-up the UR-Cloud, thus liberating people back into reality.

All this is a lot of fun, though I felt the "zany" factor of the story should have been raised several notches for it to really channel the absurdist energy needed to make the point that, in some sense, we are already living this apocalypse and might want to consider some alternatives. As it is, the play's energy gets dragged down by a somewhat clunky structure, where too much scene-bouncing back and forth between The Pile and the Sanctuary gets in the way of building up a narrative velocity. And for a play with this title, there is a remarkable lack of impending doom in the onstage action -- an edge of risk and danger should underscore the story in order to make it hit home with the proper declarative force.

Congratulations, though, to Subjective Theater Company for taking on the joyful task of theatricalizing the clear and present danger of our own human desires, which is what the art form should always try to do as often as it can.

Michael Bettencourt