“Inside Out” is a compelling meditation on technology and modernity
“Destiny has your number and she does not leave a voicemail!” explodes James B. Danner ’12 in the beginning of “Inside Out,” a new play written and directed by Christine E. Gummerson ’12. In this telling scene, a man must reevaluate his priorities in life—should he rise through the ranks of cellular advertising, or enrich his life by experiencing the wilderness? This smart, relevant play, which runs in the Loeb Drama Center’s Experimental Theater from March 10-11, confronts the strong hold that technology has over modern society and one man’s attempt to escape a world devoid of meaning.
The play follows the career crisis of Charlie (Phil M. Gillen ’13) as he is forced to deal with corporate restructuring at the phone company where he works. Facing the possibility of losing his job, he and his coworker Jillian (Valeriya Tsitron ’14) undergo an emotionally draining barrage of competency tests. After a subway encounter with the eccentric Imogen, also brilliantly portrayed by Tsitron, Charlie decides to strike out for the Alaskan wilderness to discover what he’s been missing in his life.
The standout talent of the show is Tsitron, whose ability to flip between the anxious perfectionist Jillian and the outrageously unconventional Imogen is mesmerizing. In a play that begs comparison to “Into the Wild” (dir. Sean Penn), Tsitron’s quirky turn as Imogen recalls the performance of Natalie Portman ’03 in Zach Braff’s 2004 film “Garden State.” Like Portman, Imogen’s blissful detachment from reality makes any emotional hurt all the more palpable.
Another highlight of the show is Danner’s portrayal of Hans Esss, the man hired by Charlie’s employers to oversee the restructuring process. With a flamboyant Austrian accent that brings to mind Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno” (dir. Larry Charles). Danner casually doles out maxims like “remember, mein freunds, it’s not called compulsory overtime because it’s fun.” Gillen’s Charlie is contrastingly earnest and highly realistic. In a world otherwise full of hyperbole, he remains the most convincingly human character.
In the minimalist black box theater, auditory voiceovers, sounds of the city—and then woods—and visual projections form a cohesive atmosphere. Permeating the darkness with advertisements and infomercials, the set is enveloped in the same frenetic lifestyle that suffocates Charlie. When he opens an image of the aurora borealis on his MacBook, its immediately calming aura manifests itself not just in Gillen’s facial reaction, but also in the blue, purple, and green lights that lightly radiate ‘from’ the laptop across the rest of the barren stage. Throughout the play, the lighting design of Elizabeth Y.Y. Mak ’12—whether it evokes a fluorescent, inescapable office cubicle or a mind-bending hallucinogenic fantasy—consistently reflects the emotions of every character.
Set designer Scott J. Roben ’12 makes creative use of the space not only on the ground, but also up on the wraparound balcony. First the balcony shows distance across airwaves, and then it serves as a ledge while hiking. The minimal use of props—which consist of poster board, computers, coffee cups, and a backpack—makes the staging and use of light the standout visual elements of the play.
The main engine of the piece, however, is Gummerson’s piercing social commentary. With lines like “why do we spend all our time riding in little metal boxes?” and references to the “telephonic plague,” Gummerson’s unique language and nuanced understanding of technology’s inherent flaws are brilliant. Instead of worshipping the ways in which the internet and cellular phones have connected the world, Gummerson questions the actual importance of these devices when it comes to friendship and love. While the actual plotlines sometimes seem contrived, it is the message, not the story, that drives “Inside Out” forward.