If you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, stop what you're doing right now and click here to order tickets to FWD: Life Gone Viral, the wickedly brilliant new comedy that is scheduled to run through June 10 at The Marsh (but which I suspect will be extended through the summer). I have no doubt that many people will want to see this show more than once. As well they should.
Jeri Lynn Cohen and Charlie Varon in FWD: Life Gone Viral (Photo by: Ted Weinstein)
A collaboration between three veteran Bay area talents (Charlie Varon, David Ford, and Jeri Lynn Cohen), FWD: Life Gone Viral has Varon and Cohen going through their paces as:
- The Russian, a man with some very interesting views about how YouTube and other social media act like a virus.
- Donald Saperstein, a dying man who made a video in which he blamed his ex-wife for his cancer. His video went viral, inspiring patients around the world to rethink their approach to a terminal illness.
- Dr. Lilian Steinberg, Saperstein's ex-wife who, as an oncologist, must break the news to one of her patients that his laboratory results were mistaken for those of another man with the same name. Lilian's ex has a talent for driving her up the wall. Although she is an extremely ethical medical provider, there are times when revenge sure sounds sweet. When Donald asks if he can move back in with Lilian and their children for the final stages of his disease (so that he can be close to his family and, coincidentally, be able to have them care of him), she's faced with the ugly choice between being compassionate or a doormat.
- Adam Roth, Lilian's patient who, now that he's been given a reprieve from cancer, can't stop thinking about how to take advantage of the moment in a world of burgeoning social media. Adam has also become infatuated with Lilian and, although his flattery warms a part of Lilian's ego that has not been stroked in eons, it also makes her vulnerable to the strangest kinds of temptation.
- Ellen Green, Adam's ex-wife who recognizes Donald and Lilian from their YouTube videos and realizes that they are engaging in an online spat.
- Janet Chandler, a tireless and tiresome representative for Susan G. Komen For The Cure who is, to put it politely, a relentless advocate.
- Dr. Margaret Dyer, a director at the Mayo Clinic who embraces the use of Saperstein's video as a teaching tool because it helps to lighten the workload for her professional staff, but must later retract her endorsement.
- Zizo Slavek, a medical researcher who explains that "Human beings crave sugar, so we invented Coca-Cola. Human beings crave fat, so we invented Crisco. Human beings crave attention, so we invented YouTube. And now, we have diabetes and heart disease, and soon we'll have diseases of overexposure."
- A pair of tiny unarmed electronic spy drones created to resemble the proverbial fly on the wall.
Poster Art for FWD: Life Gone Viral (Photo by: David Allen)
Varon has always been a gifted monologist whose talent for characterization has charmed audiences in such one-man shows as 1994's Rush Limbaugh in Night School and 2009's Rabbi Sam. A writer of great wit and intellectual acuity, his ability to tie his characters in knots is like watching one of filmdom's great farces (One, Two, Three or It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) without a chase scene or any slamming doors.
While Varon has usually worked alone onstage, he blossoms opposite Jeri Lynn Cohen (a cancer survivor who is a charter member of the Word For Word Performing Arts Company). An artist whose fierce talent as a communicator can cascade through flashes of irony, pathos, bitterness, and comedy in the twinkle of an eye, Cohen's acting is a joy to watch.
Developed through long hours of improvisation by Varon, Cohen, and Ford, FWD: Life Gone Viral has emerged as a farcical exposé about how the Internet has changed our lives (from enabling the kind of exhibitionism that leads to nipple-piercing videos to spiking the competitiveness of stupid men who are driven by a statistical lust for more "hits" and "likes"). The audience has to be on the edge of its seats to catch some of the rapid transitions between characters as well as the numerous references to social media and pop culture that whiz by.
Unlike two-actor plays that depend on rapid costume changes (The Mystery of Irma Vep, Greater Tuna), FWD: Life Gone Viral depends on an intelligent audience being able to keep pace with the comedic brilliance unfurling before them at a furious pace. From learning how to spy on people with one's cell phone (or, if you can afford it, a miniature drone) to deciding whether or not to forgive your selfish ex-spouse, The Marsh's new show offers a roller coaster ride through a new world of bits, bytes, hits, and likes.
Not only is FWD: Life Gone Viral one of the best pieces to be developed by Ford and Varon (helped immensely by Cohen's contribution), this is one of the few shows they've worked on that can be performed by others. I hope the performance rights turn into a steady revenue stream for all involved. Here's the trailer:
To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape