Mark this down, friends: FriendAndy.com is must-see FringeNYC theatergoing. I'm not saying there won't be other shows just as terrific at this year's festival, but boy am I glad I discovered this one.
Created, written, directed, and designed (video and sound) by the apparently boundlessly talented Wesley Frugé, FriendAndy.com is just about everything I look for in theater. In its subject matter—a young man who covets, and then gets, internet fame by creating a video that goes super-viral on YouTube and elsewhere—it's as timely and topical as can be. In its staging—a wondrously free-flowing, inventive production that makes expert use of near-continuous multimedia; one that establishes its own rules in its very first moments and then sticks to them as it hurls, relentless and unstoppable as the Net itself, toward its conclusion—it is innovative and entirely sure of itself. And in its many observations about the way we live now—and I mean RIGHT NOW—it is incisive and intelligent and often quite wise.
The hero of the piece is the eponymous Andy, a (very) under-employed actor who hatches a scheme to spread the word about his talents and hopefully pay some bills: a series of video blogs, each of which features a different character of his own devising. The mini-digital empire he soon creates is like a one-man theater festival, and an early scene in which we watch him improvise the development of one of these faux bloggers is just breathtaking. Eventually Andy hits paydirt, and what follows is the 2012 rendition of the American Dream—Arthur Miller's conscience peppered with Andy Warhol's sage prediction. The play is very fast, very funny, and very furious. The mirror it holds up against America reflects truth back at us in all its alarming and scary hilarity.
The whole show is performed, sort of miraculously, by just four actors. Three of them—Sean Hefferon, Laura Kaldis, and Natasha Strang—are the chorus, portraying a multitude of characters in Andy's various worlds (most of which are virtual). All three do remarkable work (although Hefferon's swishy gay characters are perhaps more over-the-top than they absolutely need to be). Karesia Batan is the movement choreographer, and her contributions to the fluidity and smoothness of the piece are evident in every one of its 85 minutes. Rafael Landiero's technical design includes live web chat, utilized oh so cannily to let us simultaneously watch people as they actually are and as they appear to others.
At the center of the production, in what should be a star-making performance, is a young actor I am not familiar with named Hayes Dunlap. He never fails to rise to the material's many challenges, and he remains both utterly likable and unflappable throughout. He's a young man to keep an eye on.
As is Mr. Frugé. FriendAndy.com is witty, smart, and prescient, and enormously entertaining. I am so pleased to have caught it right as FringeNYC 2012 is getting underway. I hope you will too.