Theater archives

The Human Symphony Is Out of Tune With Online Romance


Is this what you call DIY drama? The Human Symphony is written and
directed by Dylan Marron, but it’s performed by you. Well, some of you. The box office screens potential participants as the audience arrives. When the lights dim and the show starts, you might find yourself summoned to the numbered grid onstage and equipped with headphones and an iPod that plays a unique set of instructions. Once all systems load and go, the six audience volunteers perform
actions the iPod dictates. They don’t stop until the play’s over; they’re all that’s onstage. These instructional tracks are so
precisely timed that performers act in perfect unison with their partners.

Staying in sync is important in a play about automatically generated intimacy. The Human Symphony, a new work by the New York Neo-Futurists, deals with the possibilities and perils of electronic romance. For a previous project (Online Dating), Marron gathered true stories about sexual encounters that were arranged via the internet; here he focuses more on matchmaking, playing audio fragments from interviews he conducted with New York City singles over a two-year period. Only the audience in the auditorium can hear these snippets; the performers, who illustrate the stories with their actions onstage, can’t.

One couple describes a pre-internet courtship: They met in the 1970s, at a volleyball game in Washington Square. After marriage, children, and divorce, both find themselves online, braving this new world of profiles, winks, and matches. Other, younger users describe minor mishaps and felicities resulting from Tinder, OKCupid, and other sites — a woman, for instance, tells of a guy who stops calling after several dates, only to be spotted in a club dancing with another girl. (A player’s a player,
online or off-.) One interviewee wonders: Can you fall in love with someone you’ve never actually met? The show’s only raunchy tale, which also happens to be the only gay one and the most memorable too, concerns a reluctant young man’s all-nighter of group debauchery, ending in a dilapidated New Jersey motel with meth, a mattress on the floor, and a DILF who looks nothing like his Grindr profile pic.

The play’s title is supposed to describe the cacophony of desires coursing through our networked interfaces — oh, the humanity! But there’s nothing in this gimmicked-up piece to remotely fulfill those poetic claims. The interviews we hear are completely banal, with little investigation of personalities or subjects. (“It’s not always sunshine and rainbows,” says one romance seeker, sharing her insight.)

That’s a pity, because these days virtually everyone has something colorful to share when it comes to looking for love in all the wrong cyberspaces. Worse, the onstage
antics come off as silly cartoons. Following their iPod directions, performers jump up and down in place to illustrate a couple’s lovemaking when it’s described or topple cardboard boxes to indicate 9-11 when someone remembers it on audio. Marron
ignores the dead thinking in these voiceovers but he harmonizes the actions with it. The resulting pageant is the theatrical equivalent of watching emojis for an hour: flat, relentlessly cutesy, a little creepy. Like the plugged-in, dumbed-down online culture it evokes (but never critiques), The Human Symphony is hardwired but disconnected.