Review: 'Status Update' at Center Repertory hilariously explores madness of Internet obsession

By Pat Craig
November 11, 2012

You are probably familiar with the scene; perhaps it even repeats in your own living room: Someone who's electronically connected with the rest of the world perches over a laptop, alternately engaging in what's going on in the room and what's going on beyond the screen he cradles in his hands.

If you poke this person with a stick, he or she seems to be aware of you and the others in the room, but they are also engaged with cruising across myriad electronic pathways in an effort to stay as current as the nanosecond hand on an atomic clock. You see it all over the place from park benches and BART trains to restaurants and even the back row of some theaters.

Disparagers would blast it as so much silicon heroin, but for many, this connection to everything else is as necessary as air.

It's a condition that's rife with peril, as explored hilariously in Dorothy Fortenberry's "Status Update," currently getting its world premiere by Center Repertory Company, as part of its Off Center series of edgier plays.

The play tells the story of Annabel (Rosie Hallett), a young woman who recently moved to Phoenix with her husband, Brian (Ben Euphrat), and works at home altering images with Photoshop. He's a teacher, so she spends a lot of time alone, and has created a busy life for herself in the electronic fast lane.

When we join the couple, Ben is headed home and Annabel sits in her pajamas at her computer, engaging in various rituals of the Internet: Twitter, Facebook and the other time-sinks that keep people glued to their tubes.

She isn't particularly pleased to see Ben, who suggests she might change her clothes because they have company coming to celebrate her birthday.

She's not pleased with that, either, especially the fact that they are Ben's friends and there is nothing in the house for them to eat, except crackers and peanut butter. She tosses a tray of crackers and a peanut butter jar at Niko (Darren Bridgett) and Zar (Lynda DiVito) after they arrive. The couple and Ben chat awkwardly while Annabel, lost in her own world, seems captivated by a Keyboard Cat (Joel Roster) who, invisible to the others, wants to take Annabel on a magical tour into the depths and backwaters of the Internet.

The play seems here to be developing into something of a blend of "Alice in Wonderland" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?" But all the while, Fortenberry explores the as-yet-untamed electronic wilderness, making wry comments on the nature of the beast and the beasts who roam its computer-paved trails.

She has given her actors some delightfully funny and current dialogue -- in fact the performance last Friday included a reference to the David Petraeus scandal, on the very day the news broke. Under the deft direction by Becca Wolff, the cast jumps on the material wonderfully in this play with music (by the playwright's husband, Colin Wambsgans) played mostly by the singing Keyboard Cat on, what else, a keyboard. There are also vivid, and occasionally hilarious, video projects by Kerstin Hovland that enhance the idea of the Internet's engulfing distractions.

There is seduction in many flavors here, and many piercing observations from Niko and Zar, who have in mind an evening of the kind of interpersonal relations that neither Annabel nor Ben are expecting or seemingly prepared to deal with.

Like most world premieres, there are still some details to be worked out, despite all the workshops, but, in the main, the play is well-written, and in this case tremendously well-acted.


Center Rep debuted its "Off Center" series this past weekend with the world premiere of Dorothy Fortenberry's "Status Update" at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts.

Fortenberry's look at the hypnotic effect of the Internet and the various social networking sites rings all too true, creating a good deal of humor and more than a little angst among the audience.

While the writing could use some tightening up in spots, the wonderful characters Fortenberry has created certainly keep your attention, especially under Becca Wolff's tight direction and her creative cast.

Looking feline sleek and appropriately seductive, Keyboard Cat (Joel Roster) curls up on the couch to lure computer artist Annabel (Rosie Hallett) further into her addiction. Annabel's boyfriend Brian (Ben Euphrat) tries to draw her back into the real world with an impromptu birthday party inviting his colleague Zar (Lynda DiVito) and her partner Niko (Darren Bridgett). But the allure of the Internet, not to mention Keyboard Cat (who literally plays a set of portable musical keyboards) is too much, and in a keystroke Annabel finds herself sucked into the computer. Will Annabel become wedded to Keyboard Cat? Will Brian save her or fall for the charms of Zar? Find out in this entertaining treatise on social networking obsession. "Status Update" continues through Nov. 17.