SHOW: The Living Newspaper: On Location
GENRE: Interactive theater
GROUP: Liz Magic Laser
ATTENDED: Wed., Sept. 11, 8 p.m., Plays & Players Theatre
CLOSES: Thurs., Sept. 12
BRIEF SELF-DESCRIPTION: “Laser now extends her ongoing project, The Living Newspaper: On Location, in a series of live focus groups reflecting on the reception of local news coverage.”
WE THINK: The Living Newspaper might as well have been subtitled: “Fun With Green Screens.” The Plays & Players stage is converted into a television newsroom, complimented with an array of cameras on tripods, monitors and black-clad crew members manning the green-screen effects. Newscasters Michael Wiener, Audrey Crabtree and the reporter in the field, Annie Fox, don classic noir-reporter raincoats and do a fine job of lampooning shaky editing techniques and the put-on personalities of television news anchors -- particularly Wiener, channeling Fred Armisen’s Weekend Update character Nicholas Fehn by simply reading newspaper headlines as if they were his own thoughts. All the "Back to you"s and boring anchor banter landed precisely. But things start to turn weak as soon as the show moved into its ‘Man on the Street’ polling segment, where Fox sifted through less-than-willing audience members to generate public opinion.
The apparent direction of the show was pretty clever at first, with Fox asking a glasses-wearing audience member his opinion on President Obama’s job performance. “I have mixed feelings about him,” the man answered, to which Wiener immediately interjected (in a perfect news-anchor bellow): “This just in! Men with glasses have mixed feelings about Obama!” A cute jab at sample versus population polling. But, OK, great, that was cool. Let’s move on to the next segment, right?
Nope. Instead, The Living Newspaper, seemingly out of ideas halfway through the show, drudged through more audience polling, bringing up reluctant folks to pose like the subjects of today’s newspaper front-page photos -- displayed on the giant overhead green screen -- in some half-baked attempt to say something about how we perceive news. It really didn’t help that these were all 9/11-related photos. The show depreciated rapidly from there on out, repeating the same segment another two times before ending on an excruciatingly drawn-out audience poll about how we get our news.
What I found most irritating, aside from the huge amount of potential this performance had and briefly took advantage of, were the polling questions themselves. “Have you ever experienced a moment where you succeeded in something?” “Have you ever found yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place?” Guys, that’s not some kind of witty critique on newsgathering. That’s PBS Kids journalism.
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