Half Girl/Half Face by Surplus Value Theatre, playing as part of the SummerWorks Festival, tackles the issues of internet privacy and internet creepiness from the perspective of a teenager whose picture has gone viral (Arlen Aguayo Stewart). The picture is just of her face, cropped out of a perfectly average two-person photo. The Girl and the picture itself are also perfectly average; she’s pretty but not in a remarkable way and there is nothing inadvertently stuck to her nose. There is no reason the picture should be so amusing as to go viral, which is something she spends a lot of the show wondering about.
As the audience, we have to wonder about it too. I like a good meme, but a good meme is funny. Some of the memes I like have a political/social point, but some are just silly. I do not, for the record, condone anyone taking a recognizable picture of someone without their consent or knowledge and posting it on the internet. That wasn’t the situation in the play though: in Half Girl/Half Face the Girl posed for the picture, and was fine with being tagged in it on Facebook; in fact she rather likes the picture. So she’s very confused when it starts popping up all over, photoshopped onto other human or animal bodies, or just by itself, a face with no comment yet somehow hilarious to people. And then she’s understandably disturbed when it leads to men anonymously propositioning her, following her around in a drugstore, and sending her envelopes full of nail clippings
I was a bit confused too. I assume that playwright Zoë Erwin-Longstaff left the situation so inexplicable in an attempt to pertain to generic situations – not just the well-known cases of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, but also any teenager who has had an image of herself end up on the internet in a way she didn’t expect. Maybe it wasn’t meant to call Todd or Parsons to mind at all, but those, and the unfortunate number of incidents like them, is certainly what occurred to me. But the Girl doesn’t seem to be suicidal. I was left with the impression that this was a big drama now, but it would blow over like so many teenage dramas do.
The entire show is the Girl making a YouTube video to post in response to her memefication. She is onstage with her laptop, and the video is livestreamed, projected on a screen. I found myself watching the screen more than her, as it showed a more direct and close portrait of her expressions. Occasionally I looked at her, mostly because I wanted to do something different with my eyes.
Ultimately, that’s my main problem with the show: not that it avoids portraying the biggest, baddest situations of online harassment, not that the only character is very ordinary, but that it is literally a talking head. Occasionally I can find a “talking heads” play engaging if the dialogue is very interesting: but in this case there wasn’t dialogue, as there was no second head. There was just one head, with one long monoglogue saying “like” every sentence, with no stage movement, and I found it hard to stay interested in her or her plight.
Half Girl/Half Face plays at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace (16 Ryerson Avenue)
Thursday August 7, 5:30pm
Friday August 8, 7:30pm
Saturday August 9, 6:30pm
Sunday August 10, 8:30pm
Monday August 11, 9:00pm
Tuesday August 12, 5:00pm
Thursday August 14, 9:00pm
Friday August 15, 7:30pm
All individual SummerWorks tickets are $15 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at http://summerworks.ca, By phone by calling the Ticketwise Call Centre at 416-907-0468, in person at the SummerWorks Info Booth – located at The Theatre Centre (1115 Queen Street West) August 5th-17th from 10AM – 7PM (Advance tickets are $15 + service fee)
Several money-saving passes are available if you plan to see at least 3 shows
Photo by Ryan Healy