Eerie new play takes on serial killers in the digital era at the Brick’s Game Play Festival.
Corinne Nulton's new play, 14 Symptoms, is about serial killers, but it is also about communication and teenage life in the virtual age. A piece where online chats appear more real and meaningful than real-life interactions, the play, directed by Catherine Fischer, takes the theme of the Brick Theater's Game Play Festival and pushes it in an entirely new direction.
A Story Defined by Technology
14 Symptoms is the based-on-a-true-story tale of Kimmy Procter, the beautiful, nearly perfect, popular high school girl who begins an online friendship with outcast Kruse. Despite his threatening statements and confession to having all fourteen symptoms of a potential serial killer, Kimmy does not believe herself to be in danger and continues the flirtation, ultimately with tragic consequences. Meanwhile, Sam and Cam piece together the story using both their virtual and in-person interactions.
However, the play doesn't feel like it's all about Kimmy. Most scenes only contain two of the four characters, and each pair has a completely different relationship, highlighting their complex and multifaceted personalities. Whether it's party girl Kimmy's love of animal biology, Sam the former cheerleader's new obsession with Call of Duty or Kruse's mysterious family life, these kids are far more than they appear.
We follow multiple thematic threads throughout the play, from hacking and popularity to ghosts and "animal instinct." It begins in the real world, but that place grows increasingly distant as virtual relationships prove the more powerful. Yet, 14 Symptoms is still convincingly set in a high school universe, where being ignored by a friend at school is the worst thing that can happen to you.
An Intense Human Performance
The ensemble cast featured a quartet of strong performers, though Eric Wines at times stole the show with his utterly convincing embodiment of anarchist hacker Cam, a boy existing in his own universe. Brett Parisi is somewhat alienating as Kruse at the beginning of the show, but grows ever more seductive as the play goes on--just as the character should. I found myself cheering for Caroline Mahoney's Sam as her true video game geekery becomes revealed, while Melody Wilson plays Kimmy with just the right amount of ditziness.
The most powerful scenes for me were the chat conversations between Sam and Cam and between Kimmy and Kruse, in which, as the characters were in different physical spaces, there could be no eye contact. The actors' ability to engage so deeply with one another without even looking in their direction was very impressive, and brought forward interesting questions about how we relate to one another in a digital world.
The World of Today
Unfortunately, the passage of time in the play was confusing to discern throughout the play. Jumping both back and forth in time and in and out of the virtual world with only a few tables and chairs to serve as a set proved too much at times, and as engrossing as the play is, it can leave you as lost and confused as Kimmy. That murkiness, and the sometimes overly long and awkward scene transitions, were however the only elements marring the production.
Toward the end of the play, Kruse asks Cam, "Can you hack people?" what seems to be the central theme of the play. The tortured boy knows that he is dangerous, but unable to control himself, he looks to technology as his potential savior. 14 Symptoms is a play unafraid to ask how the world is changing, and whether advanced knowledge and technology is enough to save someone from doing something they will regret.
14 Symptoms has one more performance at the Game Play Festival, Saturday, July 26 at 9pm at the Brick. Check out the last of the festival before it wraps up on their website.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.