Source Festival: ‘Facebook in Memorium’

There is a ton of great theatre to see at this year’s Source Festival. But amidst the three full length and 18 ten minute plays running through this weekend, make time to see Facebook in Memorium, a deeply thought-provoking and creative devised piece.

Internet trolls. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.
Internet trolls. Photo by C. Stanley Photography.

Running at thirty minutes, Facebook in Memorium is brief – but it packs a lot of punch in a short time. Devised by Elizabeth Dinkova (who directed), Rachel Hynes, and Jennifer Restak, the show examines how grieving has changed in the age of social media. Specifically, the artists take as their source material “memorial” Facebook pages, the now ubiquitous digital tributes to loved ones who pass away. The implications of this phenomena are numerous, and often contradictory: on the one hand, family and friends of the deceased can receive an outpouring of support and empathy from these Facebook pages, making them feel closer to their loved ones. On the other hand, the bereaved are often subject to solicitations, fake sympathy and even “grief trolls” who apparently post cruel and unusual statements on memorial pages just for the sheer hell of it. The rise of social media has been so fast that nobody has had time to establish the proper “rules” for digital grieving. At a time of loss, when human connection is most crucial, social media has the capacity to both heal and traumatize. It is up to the artists of Facebook in Memorium to suss it all out.

Dinkova, Hynes, and Restak tell their story using movement, sound, projections, masks and actual text taken from memorial pages. The result is a multimedia performance that simultaneously brings the audience closer to digital technology and distances them from it. While Facebook and other social media try to translate the real world into pixels and bytes, Facebook in Memorium does the opposite: It transforms one wall of the space into a Facebook “wall” where the audience is invited to literally post things. The language of pop-up ads (“lose three inches of belly fat…”) is piped over the loudspeakers in an all too physical manifestation of those digital annoyances. And this reporter was even invited to take a selfie with one of the actors, in the middle of the performance. In short, the show makes the physical digital and the digital physical, exposing the ridiculousness that 21st century grieving can become.

The crucial components of the show’s success are the sharply authentic performances of Hynes, Rezak and Caitlin Crombleholme. Their realistic portrayals of grieving relatives contrast with the stylized staging of the piece, creating an experience that is both very theatrical and deeply human. At one moment, a character is delivering a truthful and emotional rendition of her experience with losing someone; the next moment, two actors are hopping around the stage in masks reminiscent of Mexican death dolls. But the two approaches, one fantastical and the other grounded in reality, do not cancel each other out. On the contrary, they complement and enhance each other, creating a piece that is dense and impactful despite its brevity. So take a break from your iPhone to go see Facebook in Memorium – and afterwards, of course, go tweet about it.

Running Time: 30 minutes.

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Facebook in Memorium plays this Wednesday, 6/25;Friday 6/27; and Saturday 6/28/14 at Source Theatre -1835 14th Street NW, in Washington, D.C. Purchase tickets online



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