The one thing I learned in Social Media Expert, John Krizel’s Twitter play, is that 80 minutes is a really long time to sit through a story about 140 characters.
To be fair, Krizel has a compelling premise, aiming to tackle the duality of social media’s effectiveness and overblown hype in a lighthearted tale about how a marketing team at a fast food chain restaurant responds to revelations that their burgers contain horse meat.
But the execution – and the end reveal – are a letdown. Using far too many digressive scenes (often with changes longer than the actual scenes), the play runs like a tiresome 20-something sitcom, even though it’s not billed as a comedy.
The script places David Klarman (Nate Wolfson) in various situations where he’s able to praise the commercial attributes of social media to a band of naysayers including his low-tech-slacker roommate Andy (Chris Aldrich), Andy’s anti-Twitter girlfriend Rose (Katie Ryan), David’s tech-realist love interest Claire (Megan Westman), and his tech-ignorant boss Greg (Zachary Fithian).
The actors did all they can make Social Media Expert believable and sometimes funny, with stronger performances by Ryan and Westman. Fithian also had great timing – which saves him from seeming too young for the boss role. Wolfson’s lead performance as David adequately embodied a character who is both passionate and detached, though it did feel forced at times. But none of them could really save this play from its rambling dialogue.
Frustrated with his company’s decision to go dark on all tweets in the days after the horse-meat controversy, David changes the company Twitter password, disappears, and in a drunken haze, crafts an epic supertweet that goes viral and shifts all negative publicity in the company’s favor, bringing thousands of new Twitter followers.
He saved the day. But does he really? I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that like a lot of the play, it goes on for too long and it disappoints when it comes to what it has to say about social media.
It is here that I must pause and speak directly to whom I can only conclude are the friends and family of the play’s cast and crew in the audience, and more importantly, other friends and family attending future Fringe shows:
When you laugh, very loudly, at things that are clearly not hilarious in perhaps an effort to play up the show, you distract people who are watching and listening. Just so you don’t think I’m the old lady shaking her cane at the youths on her lawn, here are two examples of many during Social Media Expert that startled me and others who I saw turn to each other in puzzlement following the audience display:
When David meets a man he’s been communicating with online for the first time, the man says: “So Nice to Finally Meet You….” To which, friends and family shouted: “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA”
When that man says: “I graduated high school at 11…” as he begins a very straightforward description of his life as a prodigy, again the laughing group burst out: “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAA”
I totally understand why people do this, but consider that this could actually do more harm than good. If you could possibly tone down your frequency and volume, I think you’ll find that the audience will land on a play’s strengths all by themselves.
Back to the review.
Social Media Expert
by John Krizel
1021 7th Street NW 3rd Floor
Washington, DC, 20001
Details and tickets
There are terms scattered throughout Social Media Expert, such as “Luddite”, “the singularity”, “pithy”, and “SEO”, that feel like giant neon signs (or hashtags?) within the dialogue attempting to give gravitas to the play’s relevance. At one point Rose even says to David: Have you read the book “Social Media is Bullshit” by B.J. Mendelson? Later she asks him: Have you read “You are not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier?
The play wants very much to be topical and intellectual, and yet, it’s immature. Instead of throwing out terms and titles, and generally adhering to the all too-easy conclusion that social media is impersonal and useless compared to face-to-face communication, I would have preferred a more thoughtful exploration of social media that includes how it has helped people in times of chaos and emergency, how it’s allowed governments to monitor their citizenry more closely, or how, as a device for human communication like the telephone or email, social media failings are really just human failures in the end. After all, it was the failure of David’s company to respond to an angry public that caused the tension, not the company’s failure to use Twitter.
There is a point in the play when David shouts to his friends about Twitter: “It’s a tool, not a self-aware entity onto itself!” The ending takes this point to a whole other level that completely muddies interesting questions that Social Media Expert doesn’t pose, much less answer.