The early ’90s was the dinosaur age of the Internet: Dial-up modems whined, the “information superhighway” was common parlance, and multi-user dimensions — the fledgling ancestors of virtual worlds — were just emerging. Trish Harnetiaux isn’t nostalgic for that time in her new play, If You Can Get to Buffalo, but she makes an amusingly pertinent case for revisiting it and, more specifically, LambdaMOO, a nascent chatroom that witnessed one of the world’s first virtual crimes and began the debate on Internet rights.
The premise sounds improbable at first, but Harnetiaux draws liberally from “A Rape in Cyberspace,” Julian Dibbell’s 1993 Village Voice article about groping through the new frontier of online communities.
Dibbell, who goes by Dr. Bombay in the ‘MOO (and is ably played by Greg Carere), is our earnest guide through the text-generated “mansion” where Starsinger (a wide-eyed Julia Sirna-Frest), Legba (an impish Alex Viola), and the scary Mr. Bungle (a grungy Rob Erickson, who also mixes the pumping ’90s soundtrack) fatefully meet.
Eric Nightengale’s direction underscores and quietly sends up, in a wry Charlie Rose Show parody, the suddenly yawning gap between technology, people, and the avatars that connect them.
The early Internet looks shockingly archaic in Jacob A. Ware’s projection design, but this equally goofy and clever show suggests that some things are universal across time and space: You can no more get to Buffalo through a phone line than you can escape ethics anywhere, even in LambdaMOO.