By Donna Herman
“Troll” by Ken Greller has transformed the fairy tale beast of yore living under a bridge in our childhood nightmares, to the millennial monster haunting every keystroke and post in our adult reality. Don’t expect a fairy tale if you can find your way to aptly named Secret Theatre in LIC where The Rushline Company is presenting its thought-provoking and riveting inaugural production. Do expect to be talking about the play to everyone you know, looking it and all involved up online, and thinking about it for a long time afterwards.
In case you represent an earlier generation than the millenials (who can skip ahead), let me tell you what a modern troll is. Someone who posts deliberately inflammatory material in an online community for the fun of it. And of course, there’s a lot of disagreement over whether or not there are ulterior motives or they just want to rile people up. Needless to say, “ists” of all kinds; psychiatrists, sociologists, anthropologists, etc. are all weighing in on the subject.
Ken Greller, the playwright, has chosen to approach the subject by plucking it straight from the headlines. The basic facts are the true story of a Gawker writer who “doxes” – or outs – the identity of the moderator of an offensive section of Reddit, the sprawling online community, called Jailbait. The section was dedicated to posting publicly available pictures of decidedly underage girls in sexy poses. The article caused a huge public controversy in 2012 when it was published.
In Greller’s “Troll” we have a young Gawker writer named Ari Jacobs (Brian Drummy) who has just lost his lover and is crashing on his friend Tim Kramer’s (Andrew Block’s) couch. Feeling unloved and unsuccessful as a relatively unknown columnist for the online gossip rag Gawker, Ari is desperate to make his mark on the world. To make matters worse, he is crashing on the couch of his best (only?), straight, handsome friend Tim, also a writer but for a more respectable online publication. In the opening scene, they go out to a club together where they proceed to get very drunk.
This establishing scene grips us right out of the box. The dialog is snappy, funny and revealing. The deft direction by Jason Modica, and the engaging and masterful performances by both Drummy and Block have our sympathies ping-ponging between the two friends. Adding insult to injury Tim reveals to Ari that he has just signed a book deal which deals a fatal blow to Ari’s ego and judgement. Desperate to prove that he too, has a promising future project, he reveals that he knows the identity of the Jailbait moderator and intends to dox him in a news-making article. And the central conflict is set up. Tim is not impressed and warns Ari against the idea. Revealing the moderator’s identity is a huge violation of privacy, an attack against free speech, and bound to bring a violent backlash against the doxer. But Ari argues the victims side – why should the perpetrators of what is universally indefensible behavior be allowed to continue and go unpunished in the name of human rights? In between arguing, drinking and dancing, Ari is texting his ex-boyfriend Ben (Reggie D. White) who lives nearby in their old apartment. Catching him at it, Tim warns him against this too and questions his motives. Is he doing the article to impress Ben?
Ari ditches Tim looking for love in all the wrong places, and tries his drunken best to get it from an uptight Ben, who is so tired of relationship drama he is attempting to go straight. The ensuing encounter turns into a pushing and shoving match between the two. A completely miserable Ari winds up back at Tim’s on the couch waiting for him to return home. He finally does at 7am the next morning and is now angry and insulted at being ditched in addition to being totally wasted.
Ari’s final move before publishing the article is to verify the moderator’s identity which he does with a phone call. Will the voice of the person identified as Arnold (Jeffrey Delano Davis) match the moderator’s voice on the tape? It does, and they have what in real life was an hour long conversation. In the play, Ari is clearly initially a little surprised that Arnold is talking to him and answering his questions instead of denying everything. Arnold is by turns aggressive and cajoling. He is trapped in his life with a completely disabled wife and a job he hates, from which he can see no release. His only outlet is a “role” he’s playing that doesn’t harm anyone and that he volunteers to give up. He is afraid of losing his job and his ability to support his wife and step-daughter.
In the end, the play asks the question, who is the troll? And it leaves you to find the answer for yourself. My question is, what’s the next Rushline Company production, and where do I buy tickets?
Troll by Ken Greller, Directed by Jason Modica
WITH: Brian Drummy (Ari Jacobs), Andrew Block (Tim Kramer), Reggie D White (Ben), Jeffrey Delano Davis (Arnold)
Sets and projections by Bryce Cutler; sound by Maggie Burke; costumes by Tristan Raines; lights by Steve Shack; stage manager, Imogen Taylor; production stage manager, John Michael Presney; fight consultant, Dan O’Driscoll. Presented by The Rushline Company; Jason Modica, Co-Founder; Brian Drummy, Co-Founder. The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd Street
Long Island City, NY 11101 www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2518682 through April 24th, Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.