“Moderation” is a psychological thriller by Kevin Kautzman. Since Spooky Action can’t present live readings, they are producing them via their YouTube channel. This is a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. After each presentation, they are holding talk-backs with the authors, actors, stage manager, director, with senior Spooky Action personnel moderating (excuse the pun).
“This is a play that revels in ambiguity, including the ending. But the journey is lots of dark comedic fun.”
The first in a series of four new plays, “Moderation” promised to be a professionally produced series of readings. Using a Zoom split screen format did not detract at all, particularly given the focus of the play. The talk-back afterward also had a real vibrancy to it. During the presentation, there were immediate reactions and thoughts from audience members. The questions and comments made for a lively session.
Written in three acts, “Moderation” chronicles the interactions of He, a somewhat adorably dorky, almost manager (he’s being tested for the role by the powers-that-be), and his new hire and only direct report – She. She was also sweetly awkward at first and young and entitled. Both had just the right millennial energy.
He was played by Robert Bowen Smith and She by Amanda Forstrom. Forstrom was last seen at Spooky Action in “The Realistic Jones.” Bowen Smith is well known from Synetic Theatre. Both were pitch-perfect in their roles.
The set-up is that the two are working as content moderators for a contractor hired by a big, social media tech company. The goal is to eventually become a real employee of the company and thereby gain access to a storied roof garden and the ability to shop in the company store more than twice a month. It’s actually a funny premise, even if it hits home for a lot of this gig economy.
There are rules. They are being watched. There is the “handbook” which He has read three times and she hasn’t. There’s lots of banter and seemingly innocuous first-day jitters and nerves, but there are also lots of lovely layers that both characters slowly begin to reveal throughout the course of the show. Things are not as they seem and in the nebulous world of online content, that is quite apt.
Some of the best sequences are the internal thoughts of He and She as they read out and describe the content about which they are making decisions. It also provides some nicely understated commentary on the subtext of always being watched — e.g., they have to remember that their eye movements are being tracked, as well as cursor and keyboard movement. It makes for a somewhat jittery experience.
There is an unexpected twist at the end. In an odd way it brought to mind that old song by Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Sixteen Tons.” There is a palpable sense of oppression underscoring all the banter and byplay.
Several of the online talk-back participants mentioned that there was a little drag leading up to Act 3, but then that’s what feedback is for during this process. Seeing this play refined and fully-staged would be intriguing. It revels in ambiguity – including the ending – while the journey is lots of dark, comedic fun.
‘Moderation’ was directed by Brandon McCoy with stage direction by Liz Divine. It has to be a challenge to rehearse via distance and technology, but this team did a commendable job.
Spooky Action has three more new works upcoming the next three Sundays. This is a generous opportunity to see new works and to add one’s thoughts and feelings about the plays – what works, what doesn’t, or what might have been unclear. It’s a nice way to experience the process and also be royally entertained at the same time. Hope to see you online.
Running Time: One hour 50 minutes with no intermission.
“New Works in Action” has been moved to the YouTube account for Spooky Action Theater. “Moderation” was available on Sunday, May 24, 2020 at 3:00 p.m. Next up is “We Victorians” on Sunday, May 31 at 3:00 p.m., “Transferal” on Sunday, June 7 at 3:00 p.m., and finally, “Circular” on Sunday, June 14, at 3:00 p.m. For more information, click here.