User Not Found Review: Touched By Life and Death in the Digital World

Keep those cell phones on; that’s where “User Not Found” largely unfolds.   Yes, this terrific site-specific play takes place in a café near BAM in Fort Greene, where Terry O’Donovan portrays a fellow café dweller also named Terry grieving the death of his ex-lover Luka. But this inventive, pointed work of theater asks us to consider how the current public immersion in the digital world affects both life and death. And so, to that end, the theatergoers are each given a headphone and a smart phone in order to follow Terry’s story, though he’s standing (and moving around, and eating) right in front of us, and speaking directly to us. But he’s also answering his text messages, and looking at his dead lover’s social media accounts – and we’re looking right along with him. “User Not Found” is an unusual show that requires some initial adjustment, dips into what feels like sci-fi, but ultimately, and surprisingly, becomes quite touching…in more ways than one.

Indeed, in a clever foreshadowing about halfway through “User Not Found,” Terry tells us of a friend named Tim. “Tim’s a performance artist, which is not something many people have the nerve to say about themselves after the age of thirty-five….” As a teacher of a course called “Digital and Pervasive Media Arts,” Tim makes his students hold hands during exercises to drive home the definition of digital — “pertains to fingers.”

”Digital means we use whatever digits we have in order to touch each other.”

As I said, this occurs halfway through. Tim, Terry tells us, is the 11th person to send him (and us) a condolence text. That’s how he finds out about Luka’s death. Terry has been doing that café dweller’s game of imagining the lives of the people sitting nearby – i.e. us – when he/we hear a ping and see a text from somebody named Nilam: “r u ok,” followed by one from Frankie: “Omg, I just heard. I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”

Soon Terry finds out what they’re talking about, and eventually he gets an e-mail from a company with the spot-on creepy sounding name of Fidelis. “Your loved one has appointed you as their Online Legacy Executor.” Terry has to decide on Luka’s behalf how much of the deceased man’s online presence should remain, and then the company will delete or retain accordingly. Terry doesn’t want the responsibility, and tries to persuade Luka’s mother Maria to do it, but she refuses; this is what Luka wanted. So Terry is stuck with making the decisions.

I can’t imagine there’s much call for such a service – I hope such companies don’t already exist – but it turns out to be a terrific prompt for Terry to explore Luka’s life both during and after they broke up, both online and off, and to contemplate his love for Luka. He also can’t help thinking about his own online life and what it has meant to live so much online. He thinks in several ways, in other words, about how much he’s lost. And, sitting within feet of him at all times, and within inches of one another, yet lost inside the virtual reality of “User Not Found,” we can’t escape thinking about that too.

User Not Found
Dante or Die, part of BAM Next Wave Festival
Written by Chris Goode
Created by Daphna Attias & Terry O’Donovan
Directed by Daphna Attias
Creative technology design by Marmelo
Lighting & set design by Zia Bergin-Holly
Music & sound design by Yaniv Fridel
Video design by Preference Studio
Costume design by Alessia Mallardo
Cast: Terry O’Donovan
At Greene Grape Annex (753 Fulton Street), a site-specific production
Remaining performances Nov 13 and 14 at 8pm; Nov 15 & 16 at 6pm, 8:30pm


Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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