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Seen by Everyone -- Review

A new ritual

Address: 2840 Mariposa Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Phone: 415-621-0507

“Seen by Everyone” — Grief in the age of social media

Annika Bergman as Elizabeth and Adrian Deane as Maggie in the Theatre of Yugen’s production of Seen by Everyone.

Review by Judith M. Wilson
Photos: Theatre of Yugen

Everyone has treasured memories, and holding them close is one way to go through the grieving process. For previous generations, carefully assembled photo albums, old newspaper clippings and perhaps boxes of mementoes were tangible reminders of the departed. In the 21st century, though, social media comes into play, keeping the memories fresh and easily accessible, and an old text, selfie or birthday reminder on Facebook might trigger emotions when one least expects it. That’s the premise of “Seen By Everyone, grief in the age of social media” by Five on a Match, which uses a collection of lines from social media and is the Theatre of Yugen’s current production at NOHspace in San Francisco. Matthew Cohn, Amir Darvish, Meg MacCary, Enormvs Munoz and Jen Taher comprise Five on a Match and are producers, as well as writers.

(back, l. to r.) Annika Bergman as Elizabeth, J.J. Van Name as Helen, Stephanie Whigham as Roxy, (front, l. to r.) Alan Coyne as Art and Paul Rodrigues as John.

The story begins with a group of friends gathered in a bar to remember their late friend Maggie, and as they recount their memories, they talk about expecting texts that never come, recall special events via photos on their phones and examine their feelings of loss. The nature of social media makes reminders constant, perhaps prolonging their grief, but over time, they eventually move past it and carry on with their lives. Thus, the focus is on character, and the way each deals with Maggie’s absence, while Maggie herself is a lingering presence who hovers over them as she goes on her own journey. Director/Artistic Director Nick Ishimaru includes elements of Japanese theater, such as masks, music and careful pacing to define the play, but with a decidedly contemporary approach in keeping with new rituals for processing grief.

Adrian Deane plays Maggie, who is in a kind of purgatory. It’s a demanding role, because although she is often nearby watching her friends, they are unable to see her, so she is unable to interact with them. Compounding the challenge, her dialog contains a certain amount of essential repetition, but she handles it beautifully, adding nuances to a frequently recurring line and making changes that are sometimes subtle and other times dramatic, so it’s always meaningful.

(l. to r.) Helen, John and Roxy.

The friends are Annika Bergman as Elizabeth, Alan Coyne as Art, Paul Rodrigues as John, JJ. Van Name as Helen and Stephanie Wigham as Roxy. Enormvs Munoz plays the bartender at the Acheron Café (presumably named after Greece’s Acheron River, believed to be the route to Hades in ancient times). Each has a special connection to Maggie, but they are also individuals with personal challenges, and the actors turn in strong performances as they develop their characters through their reactions to loss and they ways they find new meaning in their own lives. One looks for love, for example, while another gives birth. Bergman delivers a particularly heartfelt performance as Elizabeth, who struggles with both grief and guilt and asks if events might have unfolded differently if she had made other choices.

NOHspace’s black-box theatre puts the audience close to the action, creating a kind of intimacy that allows the audience to observe in detail the emotions the characters are feeling. And in that sense, it puts their lives on full display, just as social media does for a larger audience.

Songs are well performed, with notable numbers by Rodrigues and Bergman, and add to the enjoyment. They also lighten the play’s somewhat morose theme, as do memories of happy times. Grief, loss and the way people cope with those emotions in the age of social media are at the heart of the play, but hope, love and optimism also emerge. Ultimately, they’re all elements of the human condition that are timeless, and Seen by Everyone provides an intriguing way to explore them, in a well-honed production that gives the audience a chance to think technology and the many ways it impacts their lives.

 
Seen by Everyone runs through Sunday, October 21, at NOHspace, 2840 Mariposa St., San Francisco. Find out more at www.theatreofyugen.org.

Coming next: A Noh Christmas Carol, Dec. 6-30, 2018. A creative telling of a classic tale incorporating traditional elements of Japanese theatre.