We Were Nothing
Poison Apple's latest, about a friendship affected by social media, provides little to engage with
Reviewed by Dan Solomon, Fri., Dec. 20, 2013
We Were NothingMonstrosity Studio, 2514 Wilson
Through Dec. 21
Running time: 1 hr., 10 min.
We live in hyper-connected times, and We Were Nothing is billed as a play about the world that technology has created for young people to live in. While Poison Apple Initiative describes it as "what happens when relationships never have to have an expiration date," those themes are incidental to the 70 minutes of theatre the company presents. In fact, it's not about much of anything at all, which makes it downright interminable.
Like previous productions from the company, We Were Nothing is staged in a nontraditional space: here, a cramped condo. Unlike that other work, though, this play has no connection to the space it occupies; one gets the feeling that Poison Apple picked it because it was free. Will Arbery's play concerns two college-aged women, Kelly and Shelley (Kayla Newman and Terah Zolman), as they text, call, poke, and Skype their way through senior years at their geographically disparate schools.
The biggest problem with We Were Nothing isn't the disconnect between the venue and the material, though – it's the disconnect between the material's ostensible goal of highlighting how technology has strained relationships and the fact that the play doesn't show a relationship that's changed by social media, or by anything else. When we first encounter Kelly and Shelley, they're in the midst of an awkward friendship that is clearly struggling to endure the transition to adulthood. Over the next hour, a series of scenes depicts that awkward friendship over and over, in exactly the same way: The two don't connect, they're not there for each other, etc. The scenes could be placed in literally any order and the play would make the same amount of sense; the ostensible climax, in which they sit in a living room together and have nothing to say, might as well be the opening scene.
None of this is helped by the fact that We Were Nothing gives us nothing else to engage with. Kelly and Shelley are the barest of sketches – both script and production treat them with contempt. Director Bastion Carboni has Newman and Zolman end their lines with condescending uptalk and seems to discourage them from portraying either character with a modicum of self-possession. The occasionally empathetic moment from one of the actors quickly gets buried under the turgid script, which wastes entire scenes with shit like having them moon over the supposed depth of "Somebody That I Used to Know" by Australian one-hit-wonder Gotye. We're actively encouraged to view Kelly and Shelley as vapid, and with no substance to their relationship, that's easy enough to do.
From its say-nothing script to its lazy staging to its trite revelations that, er, sometimes people grow apart, We Were Nothing is unlikable, bad theatre – not up to Poison Apple's best or the standard it sets for stage productions.