By Sarah Downs
In her startling one woman show #Ugly Cry, Katie Mack, a remarkable dynamo of a woman, meditates on the meaning, nay, the very nature of existence. Did I say ‘meditates?’ No. This is no quiet Shakespearean soliloquy; this is ‘To be or not to be” — on steroids. Sound like fun? Well it is. Unique, exciting and thought provoking, Ugly Cry is one heck of a show.
Mack is talented, engaging and ingenious. In a one-woman, multi-media, interactive and immersive performance, she has created a new genre of performance. Following a narrative of grief, she marries present to past as she explores the levels of engagement one can have with the internet. Just as people throughout history have sought out mystics through whom to contact the dead, so Mack turns to the internet to ‘bring back’ a former boyfriend, Eric Anthamatten, from the beyond. The medium becomes a medium.
Mack had just reconnected with Eric when he was murdered while traveling, and her grief consumes her. The most recent incarnation of her relationship with Eric existed entirely in text messages, messages which have become more precious than gold. The very thought of their loss is occasion for hysteria. Texting is a disconnected reconnection, yet nonetheless emotionally real for its mediated existence.
For a millennial like Mack, the idea of mediating experience regularly through Facebook, TikTok or Instagram is second nature. When she begins to search, she finds more of Eric. No wonder Mack “f-g loves the internet.” In his online presence, Eric can ‘speak’ to her from bey0nd. In a near chaotic build-up of apps, frames, video clips, over dubs, all of the tools available right in your smart phone, she re-constructs a meta(data)-physical version of Eric before our very eyes. At the same time she interrogates the present — her current boyfriend, her emotional state, and the internal spectacle of her thoughts.
But a constructed memory can be only so real. A face on a screen, a text, a tiktok. As we move further away from our own memory, layering video clips and soundtracks, even online presence becomes less present. IRL has given way AI. How long can we fool ourselves that we are interacting with ephemera. People die, memory fades, but the internet construct lasts forever. Can that be called existence? Is Schrodinger’s Cat alive or dead?
Director Susanne McDonald does an excellent job reining in the extremes of Mack’s at times manic energy. Her energy still echoes in the air when she suddenly stops to turn inward in moments of welcome quiet. Mack accesses her emotions easily. In #UglyCry she has crafted a performance that is both deeply emotional and utterly inventive. You meet her onstage for a pre-show 1/2 hour before curtain. As she runs on a treadmill Mack connects on an individual level with with disarming intensity and charm, asking questions and inviting us to check out the various QR codes posted around the set (Yes – bring your phone!), which add another level of surprise to the immersive performance.
The show is a bit of a marvel, consistent at every level of design. Everything from a witty, minimalist set that also ‘talks’ to us, to the multimedia use of smartphones and projections, to the way the staff at the theater prepare the audience for the performance, contributes to the whole. It is so satisfying in detail and completeness. Go see #UglyCry — you will think, you will feel, you will connect, from IRL to AI and back again.
#Ugly Cry, grief hits different now, written and performed by Katie Mack, directed by Susanne McDonald.
Presented by OFF THE WALL PRODUCTIONS at the Chain Theatre, October 28 – November 18th. (Tuesdays at 7pm, Wednesdays – Saturdays at 8pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm) Tickets are $25, go to #uglycry or www.insideoffthewall.com/uglycry. Runs 90 minutes, with no intermission, but go early for the pre-show!