BAM’s Next Wave festival of debuts under new artistic director David Binder has another first, a show taking place not in the Harvey, the Howard Gilman Opera House, or the Fisher but up Fulton St. at a nearby café. London-based site-specific-performance purveyors Dante or Die is staging its poignant User Not Found in the cozy Greene Grape Annex, where the small audience sits at shared tables or on benches or stools. It’s an intimate and clever exploration of grief and one’s digital legacy in the age of social media that will have you thinking about your own online footprint.
Each audience member is given a headset and a cellphone. After some Norah Jones music concludes, a man starts talking; it takes a minute or so to realize he is sitting at one of the tables, getting ready to share his tale as it unfolds in real time. We see and hear exactly what he sees and hears on his phone, from text messages and relaxing apps to photos and videos that bring up memories. (The music and sound design is by Yaniv Fridel, with video design by Preference Studio and creative technology by Marmelo.) Identifying himself as Terry (Terry O’Donovan), he is just finding out that his ex-lover Luka has died and that he is the executor of his digital profile via a company called Fidelis, which means “always faithful”: It is his responsibility to determine whether to keep or delete Luka’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tinder, etc., pages. Having been unceremoniously dumped by Luka in a brutal breakup, he has no interest in the job, yet he begins searching through Luka’s data to see what he has been doing since he left him as well as remembering some of the good times. Terry walks all around the café (the lighting and set design is by Zia Bergin-Holly), seeking out eye contact and making connections, and at one point he does an interpretive dance across the floor. (The production is copresented with BAM neighbor the Mark Morris Dance Group.)
Written by Chris Goode and created by O’Donovan and Daphna Attias and inspired by a 2015 Guardian article by Caroline Twigg entitled “What happens to my late husband’s digital life now he’s gone?,” User Not Found is a very human and deeply cathartic look at grief and how it’s shared in our current world of continual contact through technology. The point is, of course, that Terry could be any of us; as you glance around at the other people in the audience, you might wonder if they’ve been through anything like Terry has, since each one of us has our stories that we choose to share or not. Director Attias carefully balances our communal and individual experiences as Terry reaches into his heart while mourning right in front of us, going through some of the five stages of loss in a swiftly moving ninety minutes. Once you leave the café, it’s highly unlikely that you won’t be considering who you would make your digital executor while also pondering what is still on your MySpace page.
(User Not Found runs through November 16; in addition, Dante or Die will host the artist workshop “Site-Specific Theater-Making” at the Mark Morris Dance Center on November 13 at 2:00 as part of BAM’s Artist Lab program.)