Girlfriend Experience in The Balcony

» Posted by on Feb 13, 2013 in Blog, Louisville, Theater | 0 comments

The cosmos seemed to have taken a distinct turn against social networking the past week. Wall Street Journal reported that Twitter doesn't work according to small business owners. Pew Research Center revealed that more and more Facebook users are taking a break from that website. And a local bar and restaurant had just started to promote their Digital Detox event that will outlaw any contact with one's mobile device for the duration of the evening

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Actor's Theater of Louisville and their second The Balcony event where social networking would not only be encouraged, it would be catered to. The confirmation of my tickets came with an attachment that listed their accounts on both Facebook and Twitter as well as the designated hashtags for that evening's production of #Girlfriend and told me to Unwind and Plug In. To further the boundaries of interaction, a post show gathering at the bar with the cast and crew was promised and there would be a Soundtrack To Your Life insert in the program that asked us to name our mix tape and list the 5 songs that should be on it.

I paid the what seems to be steep $8.00 to park in their garage, grabbed our tickets from will call utterly flummoxed by the reality that people go to the theater in sweatpants, forgetting to stick my head into Edward Lee's newest venture Milkwood to check out the soft opening instead we ascended the staircase, passed the long line at the bar in the mezzanine, past the poster that warns This play contains strong language and strobe lighting, pausing briefly to bow vaguely southwestwardly in appreciation for everything that Brown Foreman does for this city, and into The Balcony where a bar with no line waited for us. Four dollars a (plastic) glass seemed entirely reasonable for the red wine, though there was no sign of the light snacks that were promised on the notice. My date later allowed that she did see a plastic plate with what looked to be a spent piece of lettuce on it sitting on one of the cocktail tables that lay between The Balcony bar and our seats.

Every seat in the balcony was taken and it's worth mentioning that I am 6'6 and was quite comfortable the entire time From my perch I was able to observe only three seats in the lower area that were open.

The main stage: A chest of drawers over there, a couch (or Subaru, depending upon the context) in the middle, and a dorky kid's bedroom area over here. Spartan to say the least, but behind that is another stage modeled after what every 18 year old guy in 1993 wished their basement looked like. And the lighting rigs that never added too too much to the overall production were in the way of me getting to really visually enjoy that room. I can't imagine anyone seated in The Balcony disagreeing with me, and it seems like such an obvious problem to have avoided. Those unfilled lower level seats were probably better.

We were seated by 7:45 as the notice encouraged us to be so that a docent could appear in our section and inform we the social networkers of, and these are ATL's words, not mine what's cool and what's lame.

Ringers off, display dimmed, no recording, I set my twitter to follow @ATLouisville and it starts like this as the house lights go down but for the one over my head Setting: Alliance, Nebraska. The summer after high school graduation, 1993. #Balcony #ActGF

The embracing of social media types was an ideal set up for me because #Ihatemusicals, and to top it all off, I didn't like Matthew Sweet back then; there was almost zero chance of me liking him now So, I was just going to sit there for 90 minutes, whisper snide wisecracks to my date, and distract myself with social networking and frequent trips to the bar since they had left the lights on in this section to accommodate me doing both of those things but there was just one glitch in my plan: Girlfriend was fantastic.

4 girls pile into the basement set, Jyn Yates being instantly recognizable behind her drum kit, can't see the bass player's head from here because of the lighting rig, Kelly Richey straps on her Stratocaster, and this 4th person on guitar and keyboards with her back to me, according to the program, is Musical Director Julie Wolf and they launch into a ferocious jam on the intro to the song from which that album and this play takes its name. And just as the first verse is about to start, they stop. Great, I think, maybe this will be a musical with no singing.

Enter Will. It is not the summer after High School as much as it is 5 minutes after High School, or as he calls it, New Years as he dumps his textbooks into the garbage. He is wearing a T-shirt that is completely covered with from what up here appears to be the periodic table of elements. He has a Star Wars pillow case and a bedside space shuttle lamp. He has a jam box and a cassette tape and a first generation cordless landline with retractable antennae which rings as we are introduced to Mike, the play's only other on stage character.

They are both wearing headset microphones. There is obviously going to be signing.

What followed was 88 or so minutes of genius and bliss. Picking up my mobile and checking what they had to say on Twitter simply never occurred to me. Nor did getting up and getting another glass of wine.

Factor out that lighting rig and everything else was incredibly realized. The notion quickly takes hold: Maybe Matthew Sweet's album Girlfriend was intended to be the soundtrack for early 90s middle American gay teen love. Everything else makes sense after that, like the prom king type going off to college to become a brain surgeon instead of the Star Wars Space Shuttle guy who is not even planning on escaping his rural hellhole to go to college at all.

A third character begins to emerge; the movie that Will and Mike go to see at the drive in four or five times over the course of that summer. One'd be lead to believe that the movie is called Evangeline, which just also happens to be the name of a Matthew Sweet song. A super hero, a cop, a extra terrestrial, a lover, and a nun all rolled into one. I want to see this movie if it exists. Normally, this is the type of quest that begins with a Google search, else straight to IMDB, but in the spirit of things, I fired off a tweet to which I still await* a reply: Is Evangeline an actual movie? @ATLouisville.

They had been using their twitter feed to mostly retweet audience feedback, but also to announce the title of each song as it worked it's way into the story line, and while Kelley Richey's left hand was not technically a character in the play, it was something you never wanted to take your eye off as it flew all over the neck of her guitar while the band provided the Matthew Sweet jams and backing vocals to accompany Will and Mike's working of the lyrics into the script when they weren't delivering one perfect line of Todd Almond's dialogue after another, transforming the vibe during the musical moments from taking in a play to checking out a bar band. Being a dork in love is never easy, never comfortable, but being a gay teenage dork in love in Nebraska in the early 90's? And while Sweet's album brings all of this to life perfectly, it is the dialogue that fleshes out the script

People of a certain age are assured to get a nostalgia kick from the early ninetiesness of it all (especially if they appreciate the fact that they are being encouraged to tweet from their mobile devices about a play set blatantly in a time before mobile devices existed), but the main themes are timeless. I can't imagine anyone, regardless of age, gender, or orientation, not being able to identify with Will and his general awkwardness and the anxiety that locks him up while sitting in the front seat of the Subaru night after night at the movies. You will laugh while cringing at your personal frame of reference for these moments.

After the fact it was apparent that people had been tweeting throughout, but it certainly was never a distraction. Wrapped up in the comedy, and it was hysterical, was a great deal of sweetness, a touch of bittersweetness, and a depth and empathy that I found surprising. I was rapt. Everything gets a standing ovation these days, rendering them meaningless. Girlfriend earned it.

* The replies came. First Our detectives are working on it. Will update you as we uncover more! and then the next day: research led us to a film called ‘naked nuns with big guns’ Not the film! Checked with Todd Almond and film is made up!