ORLANDO – Tod Kimbro’s new musical “Media” glides across three communities, following what at first seems like three totally unrelated stories.
There’s the couple in South Carolina who are former reality TV show stars. But these days they’ve got too much grim reality on their hands – they’re in a search for their daughter, who disppeared years ago.
We’re in an art studio in Manhattan, where a young artist is hoping to leave behind the scandal that nearly wrecked his life, and possibly find some romance there at the studio.
A seemingly innocuous couple and their teenage daughter live in a mobile home in Calcutta, New Mexico – life on the open road, exciting and fun. But for the daughter, putting up videos of herself on YouTube seems like an escape from an overly sheltered existance.
“Media,” which is being presented by the Empty Spaces Theatre Co. at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, feels at first like a clever jab at the way social media sites, cable television and media in general have so dramatically changed our lives, from giving us remarkably different ways to communicate with one another, to making it virtually impossible to escape our past problems, no matter how hard we try.
Slowly, though, the three stories begin to intertwine, and you realize that Kimbro’s musical isn’t just a think-piece on the subject. As we follow the stories, we begin to see how those three communities are linked. “Media” then moves from being a commentary on the medium to a gripping story of one couple’s desperate search, and another family’s attempt to keep running – and one man’s seemingly futile efforts to start over. The pieces fall into place, and this musical builds a terrific amount of suspense as you sense where it’s going, and wonder what the final confrontation will be like.
Not knowing in advance anything about the storeline worked in my favor. If I had known, I might have been skeptical that a saga like this could have worked as a musical. But the truth is that Kimbro’s songs – which he co-wrote with Jeff Forte – have a great deal of power and passion and manage to propel the story along in a more effective and dramatic way than I would have assumed.
The back of the stage hosts a large video screen, which let’s us watch some of the YouTube videos and other Internet exchanges that the cast is doing on their laptops – letting us follow the ways in which the characters break out of their communites, and demonstrating how the world had starting shrinking so dramatically thanks to the Internet.
The couple in South Carolina employ both the Internet and reality television to help them on their search of their missing daughter. The Manhattan artist frets over what people can find out about him and his scandalous past via the Internet, and wonders if it’s going to haunt him forever – and ruin him. And the couple in New Mexico use the Internet to stay one step ahead of …. what?
Directed by John DiDonna — who also plays Bud George, the South Carolina law enforcement official turned reality star – “Media” moves at a speedy pace, cutting constantly between the three story lines, and using the musical numbers to dramatically capture the characters’ inner feelings. A full length, two hour productions (with two ten minute intermissions), “Media” is a real winner, one that starts out with a lot of flash but quickly evolves into a show with plenty of heart.
The entire cast is engaging, including DiDonna, who always has a commanding stage presence, and Adam McCabe as the tortured artist and Mira Strauss as the sheltered daughter also give real standout performances.
“Media” may be a sobering look at the way the media world has changed our lives, for better or for worse, but it doesn’t feel like an academic exercise at all. There’s heartache, drama and humor on the stage – and the songs truly rock. The play continues this weekend, with performances at 8 p.m. at the theater at 812 E. Rollins St. Tickets are $20 for the general public and $15 for students and seniors. To make reservations or buy tickets, call 407-328-9005.
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