Mercury Players’ ‘Widescreen’: Do You Like To Watch?

Mercury Players’ ‘Widescreen’: Do You Like To Watch?

Mercury Players Theatre’s production of Ned O’Reilly’s Widescreen aims to skewer us for the notion that on one hand, we’re panicked about the daily assaults on our privacy, while with the other, we’re blithely posting, tweeting and Snapchatting every one of our personal details to the world. It’s not a terribly original or deep observation, and the characters he’s created to deliver it aren’t either.

The plot concerns a trio of corporate trainers—Greg (Odari Kimani), Abby (Marie Mack) and newbie Tiffany (Sylva Forrester) who’ve been dispatched to Wisconsin Rapids (O’Reilly’s a Wisconsinite) to run sessions on proprietary software package, and then all get booked into one of the conference center’s standard-issue two double-bed suites. The entire play takes place in the room, turning the audience into uncomfortable voyeurs who see everything—the conversations, the frequent clothing changes, the bed-hopping hookups, and, of course, the copious use of social media.

On the first night, Tiffany and Greg pick up and get busy with, respectively, a local yokel (Ben Bartz) and a mysterious woman (Manny Jones), but uh-oh: Could one of them be a corporate spy? We’d probably care more about the answer if we cared at all about the characters.

Unfortunately, this is a trio of party-hearty twenty-somethings for whom “into fantasy baseball” counts as a deeply defining character trait, and they’re about as interesting to watch as someone scrolling a feed on an iPhone. They bristle at the ways their employer intrudes on and monitors their activities—they’re forced to Skype each day with their boss (voiced by Betsy Wood) and remain constantly on-call—but they’re also glued to their handhelds, constantly checking box scores and boob shots. Tiffany’s ironic observation that she doesn’t use Twitter because it’s “too personal” rises to the level of mildly amusing. Her tech savvy, however, needs some work:  She name-checks Tumblr and Snapchat, but also uses a Blackberry and still plays Angry Birds. Talk about being with it and not with it.

O’Reilly, who also directs here, dubs his play a “bedroom comedy caper,” as if it’s some kind of modern-tech Noises Off, but the laughs are few and far between—in fact, the only things that reliably bring chuckles come early on when the characters mispronounce or reference Wisconsin sites and landmarks (Who knew Wausau was a micropolis?) Frequent and overlong scene/set changes aren’t gracefully executed, and they absolutely murder the play’s pacing.

Give credit to set designer Bri Baites for creating a spot-on replica of the kind of suite anyone who’s vacationed or conferenced in Central Wisconsin will instantly recognize, to Mercury Players for supporting local playwrights and to the cast for throwing themselves into roles that require a lot of physical confidence, if not a lot of acting depth.  

Tiffany’s fond of justifying her wild partying with the phrase “It was on private time,” as if that somehow exists at all in Corporate America circa 2014. Even if you’re comfortable assuming it does, you’re better served spending yours elsewhere. 

Mercury Players Theatre’s production of Widescreen runs through November 22 in the Bartell Theatre’s Drury space.

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