The engaging new performance piece by the Neo-Futurists examines the state of news and how its content, delivery and reception by people has changed dramatically since the explosion of the digital age. For 90 minutes, a talented quintet of actors and a dynamic display of multi-media illustrate the importance of integrity in the news—and why that essential component is rapidly fading.
It’s a heady topic, but in typical Neo-Futurists style, the show is presented with loads of humor, music, a little dancing and some audience participation.
Created and written by Lisa Buscani, a National Poetry Slam champion, published author, regular contributor to Chicago’s Live Lit scene, and teacher of Ethics in Computer Games and Cinema at DePaul, Redletter is her own love letter to the honesty and credibility of Robert Redford—that is, the Redford of the 1970s, the Redford of All the President’s Men, the man who represented the “person you could trust.” As Buscani relates this obsession to the audience, we know she’s being facetious, but we also understand that she’s right. We can’t trust the news these days.
Buscani and her fellow ensemble members, Bilal Dardai, Trevor Dawkins, Thea Lux, and Lindsay Muscato, create a series of vignettes that starts with the “good ol’ days” of when newspapers were tossed onto our lawns and it was a morning ritual to sit and read them. Then there was the television that brought the news into our homes only at specific times of the day. After that, CNN burst onto the scene and began to broadcast it 24/7. Soon more cable networks sprouted on the air with more and more news. Then came the Internet... and just when we thought it was going to get even better, it became a big problem.
“I saw something happen, and I tell it to you,” a cast member announces, throwing the message to another cast member by means of a flashlight beam. “I agree with it and tell it to you,” the new person says, passing the missive on to another. It’s a simple analogy, but it’s correct—much like the old “telephone” game that we played as kids in which a fact quickly becomes distorted as it’s passed from one recipient to another. With the age of the Internet, though, the news can begin with a big lie, and that’s what propagates around the world in a matter of seconds.
The Boston Marathon bombing is aptly used as an example. The actors and the multi-media slideshow as a backdrop (the screen is covered, appropriately, in newspapers) display the hysteria that occurred the day of the attack and how many innocent people were mistakenly accused of the crime and how the facts of the capture of the actual perpetrator were twisted. The problem with many cases like this that appear online, Buscani says, is that when a “mistake” (i.e., “lie”) is pointed out, the “hacks” (as they’re called by the cast members) make no attempt to correct the article, or, if they do, the retraction or modification is buried where you can’t find it—and worst of all, they leave the offending lie on the home page!
One of the actors (Dawkins) at one point portrays a caricature of his own father, who worked for CBS News in New York in the 70s and 80s. He claims that they didn’t have a “comments” section for their news, that readers’ “comments” were submitted in the form of snail mail sent to the studio, which they promptly threw in the garbage. Today, with “comments” published beneath every online news item, the mouth of hell has opened to accept any old biased opinion, which, in turn, becomes “news.”
Despite the heavy message Redletter expounds, director Jen Ellison keeps the show moving at a frantic pace. The entire ensemble is terrific, but standouts definitely include Trevor Dawkins, who could easily fit in as a cast member of Saturday Night Live, and Thea Lux, whose musical abilities enhance the show.
Thought-provoking and immensely entertaining—what more could a theater-goer want from a show? Redletter succeeds on all counts.
Redletter runs at The Neo-Futurarium through March 28.
Clef Notes Chicagoland Journal for the Arts
Lisa Buscani, creator of Redletter at The Neo-Futurarium this spring (photo by Joe Mazza)