In Arts & Entertainment Reviews

Smartphones and kids make a funny match in "TXT U L8R" at First Stage. (PHOTO: Paul Ruffalo)

"TXT U L8R" is a fun and mysterious romp through the world of smartphones

It was only a matter of time before someone wrote an honest play about that thing kids do that seems to drive every parent nuts these days.

Texting and smartphones.

Leave it to First Stage and prolific playwright Eric Coble to come up with a multi-tiered look that manages to walk right down the middle of the gulf between texters (mainly younger people) and texting-haters (the rest of us).

The Young Company at First Stage – under the creative direction of Matt Daniels, who is also the Associate Director of the Young Company – is staging "TXT U L8R," a funny and mysterious show about the way those smartphones can rule lives and how their overuse may well bring the kind of confusions that drive people crazy.

The play opens on a set with colored and lighted squares covering the walls and floor with two giant smartphones on each side. Eight chairs are set up, each in isolation, on the floor. Kristin Ellert designed the set and handled the incredibly effective video in the production, while the lighting by Marisa Abbott added to the atmosphere of the phone-centric production.

One by one, the actors enter, each picking a seat as if they are in a classroom. They sit, seemingly attached to their phones, with the exception of Taylor (Grace Becker) who is reading a book, obviously a teacher's pet.

As each character is unveiled to the audience, mainly through texts which are shown on the two big phones, it becomes apparent that something mysterious is afoot.

It turns out that all of these mysterious texts, going to each of the characters, have been sent from the phone numbers of each of the eight. Yet they each deny having ever sent the messages that swirl around, claiming inside knowledge of each other.

For example, there is a text to all eight congratulating Zelda (Abby Barbeau) for finally coming out of the closet. Her response, filled with humor and wonder, is that she is not gay "although nothing would be wrong with it if I was."

The texts build, one on top of the other, until it becomes clear that there is an alternative universe that is a phone universe. Just as the people use their phones to talk to other people, in the alternative universe, the phones use their people to talk to other phones.

If it all sounds confusing, it's not. It's incredibly funny as well as thought provoking.

Beside Barbeau and Becker, the actors in this marvelous cast are Chantae Miller, Sarah Niemann, Zoe Powell, Hope Riesterer, Dean Sabatino and Cole Winston.

I have long felt that Daniels is at the very top of my list of actors who understand the intricacies and importance of stage movement. Every time I've seen him at work, I marvel how his every movement is made with purpose. If there is no reason to move, he doesn't.

Those talents are on full display in this production. Momentary movement in slow motion make it clear that there is no headlong rush into the world of smartphones but a cautious and calculated step into this world. Tender touches, a chaste holding of hands and a slight pat on the back are the stuff that fully realized characters are made of.

The pity of this play is that it only runs for one more weekend, but it's well worth getting tickets so that you, and perhaps your teenagers, can see a story about the joys, sorrows and wonders of our smartphones.

Information on showtimes and tickets is available at First Stage's website.


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