What's the buzz?

Tavern on the Net

Written and directed by Ben Alexander
The Useful Arts Ensemble
Common Basis Theatre
750 8th Ave. (46th/47th) 5th fl. (414-5357)
Equity showcase (closes Oct. 24)
Review by Sheila Mart

Tavern on the Net is an interesting and entertaining play about that titillating indulgence of the computer age known as the chat room. Anyone who has had experience on the Internet is probably familiar with chat rooms. (For the rest, a chat room is a virtual place on the Internet where computer users can socialize with complete strangers, without commitment.) This piece explores the moral responsibility - or lack of it - involved in relating to other human beings.

The first act visualizes seven people "talking" to each other in a chat room. These people are actually only communicating by means of their individual computers, from all over the country. None of them have ever met, except for Todd and Laurie Ruggles, who were friends throughout their school years. Todd, unlike the rest of those in this chat room, uses his real name; Laurie is "The Princess Irene." (Most people in a chat room use some sort of pseudonym, consistent with not wanting to make a commitment.) The chat-room visitors, including Minnie the Mermaid, Lucretia, Barnacle Bill, and the Space Girl, constantly enter and exit the chat room and exchange tidbits about their lives. Some ask for each others' E-mail addresses (the '90s equivalent of asking for phone numbers), in case they want to "talk" privately. Minnie tells about her unsuccessful attempt to make a career change by moving to New York; Lucretia is an embittered and inevitable victim of bad relationships; Barnacle Bill is a frustrated writer; Space Girl is a frustrated teenager; the Princess is equally frustrated, although slightly older. (These last two characters could be effectively consolidated into one - they are two sides of the same coin.)

The second act includes the real-life living room, in which we meet Elliot Kimball, otherwise known as Sir Galahad, who set up the chat room, and Laurie Ruggles (The Princess). The play now confronts mistakes both characters made in the past.

Ben Alexander has written, and smoothly directed, a fascinating play relying heavily on poetic metaphor to express the moral dilemmas inherent in the dual nature (reality/fantasy) of the chat room. The play would have been stronger, though, if The Princess Irene and Laurie were played by the same actress; likewise Sir Galahad and Elliot.

The acting was uniformly good: Joyia D. Bradley (Minnie), Dale Davidson (Lucretia), David Copeland (Sir Galahad), Kimberly Frost (The Princess), Marty Zentz (Todd), Jerry Jaffe (Barnacle Bill), Susan O'Connor (Spacegirl), Alexandra Devin (Laurie Ruggles and Mary Lou), and Mike Jankowitz (Elliot Kimball) all developed credible characters.

The set designer, Natalya Vidokle, designed two effective sets using a minimum of painted boxes, stools, and chairs. The lighting, not credited, was just right, and Sharon Michnay as stage manager did a commendable job.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 1999 Sheila Mart