The deal made at the outset of Mac Rogers’ Viral is a fairly morbid one: Meredith wants to end her life, and has found a trio of people eager to help her do so in a dignified way. That Rogers treats this subject manner in a straightforward manner instead of undercutting it with humor or playing it for pathos is the first clue that this polished show knows exactly what it is doing. Amy Lynn Stewart is the enigmatic Meredith. We never learn the whats and whys about her, her background, her sorrow, or why she feels the best course of action is to commit suicide, and yet this uncertainty doesn’t matter. In Stewart’s hands, Meredith is a three-dimensional woman. Whatever happened in her past to make her opt to cut short her future is her business. We’re just lucky to witness her in the present.
Colin (Kent Meister) and his roommates must also feel lucky to encounter Meredith. His girlfriend, Geena (Rebecca Comtois) finds her online, on a “painless suicide” site. The two of them, along with Geena’s brother, Jarvis (Matthew Trumbull), are looking to recruit a subject willing to let them record her committing suicide on camera. Though the three, who are also roommates, plan to sell the video, profit is not their chief interest. The three find aesthetic beauty in the willful passing from life to death.
Director Jordana Williams does a tremendous job steering the show from start to finish. There isn’t a wasted moment, and Rogers’ excellent script escalates appropriately. (Viral is playing as part of the FringeNYC Encore Series, after winning the festival’s Outstanding Play Award, Rogers’ third in five years.)
She is also blessed with a sterling cast. Stewart is amazing – even while adjusting to Colin and Geena’s world, her Meredith never fully gives herself away. Meister is terrific as Colin, who is so blinded by his mission that he forgets how to deal with people properly. Comtois radiates insecurity as Geena, and Trumbull engenders sympathy as the ne’er-do-well Jarvis. Additionally, the two demonstrate such chemistry that it is easy to believe they might be siblings. Jonathan Pereira is also spot-on in a late role as a film distributor.
Viral is an honest work that offers plenty to think about. I hope to see it reach more people in another incarnation soon.