By TJ Dawe and Itai Erdal. Directed by Rachel Peake. An Elbow Theatre production. At the Firehall Arts Centre on Thursday, October 5. Continues until October 14
There’s a compelling thread throughout Hyperlink, a story that unfolds through a series of email exchanges verbalized by writers and performers Itai Erdal and TJ Dawe, about Erdal’s life-changing experience with a “subletter” on Craigslist. It starts out innocently enough, as do so many relatively anonymous exchanges on the Internet, but there’s foreshadowing that it’s going to get weird.
Then comes the major red flag that things are actually going to get bad: a man who behaves erratically with a woman he barely knows, but who puts on a mask of calm when dealing with the man who questions him about his behaviour.
I won’t give away the ending to the Craigslist story, except to say that it is almost lost in Hyperlink’s cacophony, and its purposeful obfuscation is a brilliant bit of commentary by Erdal and Dawe about the very nature of our digital lives.
Sometimes our online interactions facilitate deeply intimate and profound connections and the humanity spills out of our screens and into our living rooms. Yet, as Hyperlink illustrates, these are the very real moments that can get entirely lost in a sea of Internet distractions: the “cute overloads” or an abundance of trite memes, porn, and Facebook, finding the right Snapchat filter or all the spam Viagra your dick could ever need.
Not everything about Hyperlink works: its structure feels a little haphazard and the moments of audience participation are hit-and-miss. The great double bassist Mark Haney feels wasted in his role, despite being on-stage the whole time. But Hyperlink’s biggest challenge is its premise. Most of the existential angst about what it means to live in a digitized world and cultivating empathy online belongs to people over a certain age. There’s an off-putting privilege to most nostalgia, because prolonged nostalgia is a cop-out. It refuses to contend with present-day realities, and it does little to shape the future.
Thankfully, Dawe and Erdal don’t dwell in this mindset very often. Both have long histories of creating one-man shows, and memoir work is its own kind of self-mythologizing—just like the curated lives we present online, perfect or messy or somewhere in between.
For the most part, Dawe and Erdal seem interested in exploring the hypocrisies and truths in their own online behaviours with candour and humour, demonstrating how all of these different personas compare, contrast, and inform what it means to be human, even a hyperlinked one, in 2017.