Kidnapped by Craigslist

How much you enjoy this theatrical collection of Craigslist posts may depend on how you feel about carnivals and confessions

Arts Review

Kidnapped by Craigslist

Blue Theater, through July 26

Running time: 1 hr

Maybe once upon a time, most men led lives of quiet desperation, but I'm here to tell you, Mr. Thoreau, that day is past. Suffering in silence has given way to people spilling their guts, about their lives of desperation and intoxication and indigestion and everything else – and doing so loudly enough for everyone to hear. Most folks these days shout it from their keyboards in electronic public spaces where the whole world can take note of their feelings. You have only to log on to MySpace or Facebook or Craigslist to find a surfeit of humanity sharing deeply personal details of their existences, with topics once deemed taboo for discussion even with one's intimates now openly broached with strangers. Ours is an age of constant confession, and the baring of one's soul knows no bounds.

Observing that confessional culture in action on Craigslist led St. Edward's University grads Katie Goan and Nitra Gutierrez to craft a theatrical compilation of actual posts from the site's New York forums, and the resulting show's success in the Big Apple last summer prompted them to create an Austin incarnation in partnership with Shrewd Productions. The posts for this Kidnapped by Craigslist, most of which are local, are set within the framework of a carnival, with a midway barker (lean, loose-limbed Andrew Varenhorst) enthusiastically directing the audience's attention to its various attractions – The Tunnel of Love! The Fun House! The Auction House! The Secrets Well! – each of which hosts posts of a certain kind. At each stop, Varenhorst and his six fellow performers (Lynn Burnor, Brock England, Chris Humphrey, Pierce Purselley, Bryan Schneider, and co-creator Gutierrez) take turns reciting first-person exposés of the habits of obnoxious co-workers, encounters with lunatic neighbors, dealings with stoned pizza-joint employees, personal compulsions regarding baked goods, sexual preferences, and the like. The carnival framework is effective in setting up a festive atmosphere for these oddball tales and disclosures, most of which are played for laughs, but it also suggests something more extravagant, flashy, and theatrical than what we get here. Most of the individual bits are presented rather modestly – just spoken directly to the audience – and when the performers don't sell them with sufficient comic flair, as sometimes happens, it undercuts both the humor and the sense that what's being presented here is as outrageous and colorfully entertaining in its way as what you'd find on the midway. The bits that work best are the ones that add music or movement to push the posts to a more theatrical level, like the song that begins as a standard romantic ode to one's lover then segues abruptly into a blunt – but still sweet – request for said lover to refrain from certain erotic activities involving her posterior. Michelle O'Connor's music saturates the lines in this sappy pop innocence at odds with the subject matter, which adds another level to the humor, and it gives director Jason Hays a reason to stage it as a real musical number, which adds a welcome splash of spectacle.

This carnival is not all fun and games, however. The Secrets Well is Goan and Gutierrez's nod to the fact that Craigslist is a place where people reveal a lot of their pain and insecurities. The point is well-taken and would probably be missed if it weren't included, but once it's made, the show can't really recover the air of goofy fun it's sought to convey before this. The feeling is a little like the one you get after walking past the sideshow banners advertising oddities of nature to see what they are in the flesh and realizing: They aren't freaks; they're just people. However different they may look, they have dreams and desires and quirks and flaws just like anyone else. And knowing that makes it harder to separate yourself from them, to stand apart and point at their strangeness. Now, that's not to say some people won't be able to enjoy Kidnapped by Craigslist purely as a diversion, for the good time that it offers. But whether you can count yourself among them may have a lot to do with how you feel about carnivals. And confessions.

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Kidnapped by Craigslist, Shrewd Productions, Katie Goan, Nitra Gutierrez, Andrew Varenhorst

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