Flying V Theatre Company’s self proclaimed title as a “local indie theater” carries a deceptively complex stigma along with its given purpose. To be successfully indie, one must be trendy without being a hipster, intellectual without being pretentious, and be economically viable without selling out. Somehow, Flying V has figured all this out in their latest production, rooted in internet culture and bursting with youthful vibrancy, The Best of Craigslist.
The innovative script adapts 37 posts on Craigslist into a series of musical, comedic, and dramatic vignettes. For those feeling completely lost: Craigslist is a website on which anyone can free advertisements for anything, both seeking and selling things ranging from old furniture to romantic relationships. The Best of Craigslist takes the most ridiculous, hilarious, and heart-crushing posts ever to appear on this website and brings them to life in an ensemble based love letter to the anonymous community that makes up Craigslist, the internet, and the Twenty First Century.
Every time I thought this production hit a high point, a new one would emerge in a completely unexpected way. Jason Schlafstein’s direction crafts an emotional flow for the scenes, leading into a surprisingly dramatic and endearing conclusion to this primarily comedic piece. When woven together, these posts provide a fair amount of subtle social commentary, giving depth to what could be a fairly shallow work. Schlafstein’s stagings were aesthetically interesting while accomplishing the difficult task of visually representing these blocks of text mined from the internet. His stylizations leaned towards over-the-top, hyper-dramatized interpretations of what these posters might be like in real life, which provided for some hilarious moments, like a Street Fighter-style battle between a perspective super hero and villain or a monologue by an oblivious wife seeking a “rusty trombone” via her husband’s request, while being unaware of its perverse definition as a sex act. However, these overtly comedic presentations also led to some of the biggest misses of the night.
When adapting text from the internet, it can be easy to lose what actually made the source material funny in the first place. The anonymity creates a mysterious open book where the range of possible interpretations and outrageous possibilities constitute the comedic value of the post, and when staged, the realness of the scene detracts from the hilarity the internet gave it. This was especially true in the scene adapted from the viral post selling a used yoga mat. It was impossible to live up the hilariously disgusting over-detailing of a hot yoga experience when a lot of the humor is derived from imagining how terrible and uncomfortable the experience must have been. This scene was amusing, but it was clear that this was not the proper medium for that and a couple other scenes. The presentation of these characters often added to what was originally written, however, the concrete “right answer” being presented to you in flesh and blood did detract from several scenes. It was an experience similar to having someone watch a YouTube video over your shoulder waiting for you to laugh or having someone explaining a joke in order to make it funnier. Was the show funny? Absolutely. But is live theater the best medium to enjoy the source material? In some cases, no.
That being said, this multifaceted production had merit beyond its comedy. About one in three vignettes were musical adaptations, accompanied by guitar and/or ukulele. The simplistic, bedroom style of these songs were thematically and atmospherically perfect for the production, amplifying the comedy with screwball lyrics, like the ones found in Bus Boyfriend/Prosthetic Leg, and narrating the most touching moments of the plays. The music was catchy, current, and made me appreciate ukulele music in a whole new way. If mp3s for their songs were available, you can be sure several of them would be on my iPod right now. (Flying V: Can you make this happen? Please?)
Many of the performers are musical theater majors, and their vocal talents are put in center time and time again. One ensemble member in particular, Katie Nigsch-Fairfax, stood out as she powered through a ballad detailing a former porn star’s desire for a relationship with a eunuch with technical dexterity and brilliant comedic timing. Britt Duff could thrive as a solo indie musician. Her unique and emotive voice blended perfectly with her ukulele playing, not to mention how she carried several comedic and the two of the most powerful dramatic moments in the play. Eugene Fertelmeyster performed as the guitarist, whose skill in musicianship was matched by his acting as he performed the climactic monologue of the show, A Letter to My Dead Girlfriend. Another technically proficient musician, Edward C. Nagel, worked as a pianist and excelled as hilariously neurotic characters with plastered smiles and crazy eyes. Nick Hagy had a Jonah Hill flair to his performance, eschewing a lovable yet awkward aura in all of his characters. The final ensemble member, Megan Westman, commanded the stage with her versatile vocal, ukulele, and acting talent, and an uproarious rendition of a sex noise duel with her upstairs neighbors.
The sets, designed by Andrew Berry, were a spot on depiction of Craigslist might look like as an apartment. The kitschy style was brought to life with neon colors, pop art, and rightly random items, ranging from a boba fett helmet to a monkey puppet hanging off the wall. Lights, designed by Kristin A. Thompson, utilized the small space effectively, providing striking effects that emphasized building drama. Sound Designer Neil McFadden provided subtle expository effects as well as designing cues that were hilarious in their own right.
Flying V’s production captured the true spirit of Craigslist, both trolling and sincere, with a bemusing and moving piece of theater. The Best of Craigslist is a great time and a unique piece of theater, sure to broaden your horizons to a new side of pop culture.
Running Time: Two hours, with no intermission.
The Best of Craigslist plays through June 30, 2013 at Flying V Theatre Company at The Writer’s Center – 4508 Walsh Street, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase them online, or can be purchased at the door.