Written by Erin Shields. Directed by Dean Patrick Fleming. Set and costumes by Cathia Pagotto. Lighting by Andrea Lundy. Sound by Devon Bate. At Young People’s Theatre. Runs until December 15.
What would you do if you were a teenager who wanted to become famous? Playwright Erin Shields examines that question and many others in her bracing new play Instant.
Meredith (Michelle Rambharose) is desperate to become a famous singer/songwriter and frequently posts videos of her singing on social media. Her best friend, Jay (Dakota Jamal Wellman), supports her efforts. When their shy, awkward classmate Rosie (Leah Fong) posts her own video with huge response, Meredith is furious with jealousy. So much so that her jealousy gets the better of her with almost disastrous results.
A sensitive, perceptive writer, Shields delves into the world of the teenagers’ obsession with social media, likes, hits, and all the attendant lingo important to these teens. We see how mean and sordid the internet is and how easily teens can be sucked into that world of being cruel. We’ve all read stories in the media about cyber bullying before, but Shields does not present the stories in her play as clichés or provide easy solutions. There is a kind of earned redemption. People grow up, wise up, mature, learn from their mistakes, and learn from each other.
The cast of three give beautifully nuanced performances. Jay is the conscience of the piece. He cares for his friend Meredith, but he knows what she did to Rose was cruel. When it was absolutely vital, Jay acted selflessly to help Meredith right her wrong and to come to Rose’s aid and give her the support she needed. I like the moral fibre of the play.
Instant is directed simply by Dean Patrick Fleming, who realizes the fragile dynamic of the three friends. When the characters interact there is a proximity that never seems fake or forced. Cathia Pagotto’s spare set is made up of moveable blocks, which the actors shift around in swift, efficient manoeuvres to represent the various locations in the play, like the school and Meredith’s house.
Ordinarily I never comment on an audience’s reaction to a play. Instant is different, because I saw it with an audience of teenagers at a student matinee. They are a tough audience and easily distracted if they are bored. There was not one sound from them, no shifting or fidgeting in their seats. Just silence as everything happening on stage was being soaked in. Instant spoke to them. It’s an important, perceptive play for our times.
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