Flashing Lights is a spot-on satire of memes and online celebrity

FLASHING LIGHTS by the company (Bad New Days/Ahuri Theatre). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to October 22..


FLASHING LIGHTS by the company (Bad New Days/Ahuri Theatre). At the Theatre Centre (1115 Queen West). Runs to October 22. $5-60. theatrecentre.org. Rating: NNN

This high-tech collaboration between director Adam Paolozza and writer Guillermo Verdecchia is both a comedic take on our obsession with memes and online celebrity, and a deep and at times disturbing meditation on the isolating effects of humanitys increasing symbiosis with smartphones and other communications technologies.

The plot follows Peter (Dan Watson), a writer who unintentionally becomes an overnight internet sensation when a video of him eating cereal goes viral. The core of the show is Peters rise and fall as an internet celebrity, and provides a detailed and very funny anatomy of this process from bewildered buzz to corporate brand strategy to media appearances, saturation, embarrassment, and disgrace. His eventual meltdown to his team of marketing advisors is hilarious and spot-on.

Initially in the periphery of this narrative are parallel stories about Peters partner Shannon (Miranda Calderon), a rising tech visionary in the vein of Elon Musk who becomes obsessed with having her mind transferred to a computer, and their child Ter (Liz Peterson) a rebellious teenager who explores natural methods of expanding consciousness.

The inter-generational contrast between Shannon and Ters approaches to post-humanism is one of the most intriguing aspects suggesting that cybernetic existence isnt as liberating or appealing as some theorists made it seem in the 80s but their stories arent well integrated with the main narrative of Peters whirlwind meme experience (which could easily work as a stand-alone), and feel like fragmented add-ons.

Paolozza keeps the pace alternating between exaggerated sometimes cartoonlike action and slow, brooding scenes highlighting surreal elements. The design utilizes an array of smartphones, tablets, and giant screens around the stage to constantly image and display aspects of the performance in real-time.

Unfortunately, the largest screen mostly-transparent and positioned at the edge of the stage between the audience and the performers fosters a feeling of separation and sacrifices intimacy, especially during key scenes set toward the back of the large Franco Boni space. On the plus side, Matt Smiths retro-sounding arpeggiated synth score provides the perfect sonic backdrop for digital soul-searching.

Assessing the manifold impacts of communications technologies at the levels of society, families and individuals is a massive undertaking. Even if the three narratives at times feel disjointed or in need of paring-down, Flashing Lights raises and explores pressing questions about the radical reframing of relationships, identities and experience currently underway.

Anyone with a keen interest in technology studies or human-machine interactions will find lots to productively ponder here.

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