In the age of Facebook, texting, and Skype, everyone has heard a variation of the following expression at least once: “I prefer to speak to someone face to face rather than through a device.” This statement directly points to the problems of establishing human connections through the use of technology and media. Nevertheless, it is also very common to hear that technology brings the world closer together so that two friends can remain in contact regardless of their years of separation. We Were Nothing!, which was written by Will Arbery (in collaboration with Shelley Fort, Elly Smokler, Emilie Soffe, and Lisa Szolovits) and directed by Lisa Szolovits, avoids a simplistic answer to these judgments. Is that impossibility to communicate or achieve intimacy due to our dependence on technology or to a much deeper human limitation? The play’s references to communication technologies go back to the mid-twentieth century and the use of the telegram, which indicated the end of each sentence with a resounding "stop," and so refuses to accept that this failure to connect is a problem only limited to the Internet age.
Despite the fact that the separation of the two main characters is at the center of the show, it takes place in a private apartment, managed for the production by Deidre Works (the exact location is confidential until tickets are purchased). The apartment’s living room has a capacity for approximately 30 audience members. This successfully recreates a cozy and intimate space from which to explore the distance between Shelley (Emilie Soffe) and Kelly (Elly Smokler). The comfortable and informal costumes by Clara Fath make the characters belong to that living room, even when they are communicating through technology from distant places. Isabella Byrd's lighting adds to the warmth of the location and at times transforms the living room into a virtual space, such as a switching on of a light which makes an opening on a wall become a computer screen through which the characters are able to Skype. Although the area is small, the actresses’ energetic performance is never restricted by spatial limitations. They jump through a partition opening, reveal a space hidden by curtains, and, one time, leave the performance area for a few seconds. At this point, even if the audience cannot see them, members remain riveted to their vocal presence, a proof of great theater acting.
In the play, Shelley and Kelly are twenty-something women with distinct and truthful personalities, a result of a strong artistic collaboration topped by Arbery’s writing, Szolovits’s direction, and the actresses’ performances.
While Shelley is somewhat insecure, needy, and a bit more open to share her emotions; Kelly is supportive and rather emotionally inexpressive, even when she appears to be outgoing. Both women reveal breakups, discuss a father’s illness, or make fun of past acquaintances by speaking to each other on their cellphones, e-mailing, texting, and Skyping. Yet no matter how many times they “like” one of their photos or comments on Facebook or reveal their fear of growing up through Gchat, each is incapable of effectively responding to the other’s personal questions or observations. This idea is carried throughout the play and the action leads to their climactic face-to-face meeting. At this point, the play may provide an answer or raise more questions about intimacy and closeness in our world.
Is the inability to connect with each other in the twenty-first century due to the dominating role of technology or because of our human condition? By staging this distance in such a close environment, We Were Nothing! reveals in an entertaining way that the answer to this question may be elusive, yet crucial to each person present in that living room.
We Were Nothing! will play a four-week engagement from January 17 to February 9, on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m. The show will be performed inside a private residence near Union Square. The exact address and directions to the venue will be released only to ticket holders. Tickets are $20.00 and available online at www.artful.ly/store/events/2099.