As stated in the program description, The Five Faces of Evelyn Frost is a “play about social media and human relationships.” It explores the effect that online content has on people when indiscriminately shared and how interaction is therefore shaped by digital technology.
With an ensemble cast of five actors from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), fast-paced dialogue, and the use of hundreds of projected images in over an hour, Five Faces is an engaging and relevant theatrical experience. Theatre Erindale’s production enhances the outrageous discontinuity of online personas through every element.
Amidst the text and photos, which are just like the content that we regularly encounter on social media, the performers bring a face and being onstage. The fullness of their lives may not be rendered visible through social media. However, the performers’ interpretations of their characters and the insertion of personality in the live performance makes empathy from the audience possible, particularly as their content becomes increasingly extreme.
As One, Jenae Fairclough powerfully presents curating what others see online and deriving worth from social media without question. Vivi Valo portrays Two as performatively lonely and has notable comedic delivery. Meaghan Dias, Maya Lerman, and Andrew Easterling complete the cast as the individualistic Three, pretentious Four, and nonchalant Five respectively.
I will not spoil the contents of the projected photographs, most of which brought non-stop laughter from the opening night audience. The onslaught of well-timed photos alternating between two framed screens are integral to the intermedial performance and part of their effect is the constant unexpectedness, even for someone who has read the play.
In the production, the photos support the meaning of the play itself by extending themes from the script. References in the text and photos similarly invite audience interaction. Like the characters, we often understand ourselves through what we know. Equally, the contrast between the quality of the design onstage and of the photos highlights the different ways in which performance is curated live and digitally.
Leslie Wright (set and projection design), Michelle Vanderheyden (costume design), Mike Slater (lighting design), and Joseph Taylor (sound and projection design) delivered impressive theatrical design that supported the overall production. The quantity of projection cues cannot be understated. Stage manager Laura Grandfield must be credited for what would imaginably be a tough show to call.
While Anita La Selva’s fun take on Five Faces was somewhat surprising given the palpable despair in the post-dramatic text, it was effective in bringing the audience into the exhilaration of the five faces as they display their content. Simultaneously, the photos maintain an awareness for the fact of performance. They speak to the ridiculousness of these characters pausing for photos, documenting these moments, and manufacturing events.
Overall, as situations become glamorized, sensationalized, and exploited for the sake of generating content (an act that garners attention from creator and consumer for profit), the characters are depersonalized to the point that they remain nameless. I would argue that tragically, the performativity does not release. This is part of the production’s impact.
With the laughter and excitement of those around me, the medium of satirical theatrical experience felt like an environment in which it was possible to grapple with our relationships with social media. Particularly now, theatre as part of a collective, the present audience can act as a site to safely experience complexity.
In contrast to digital media companies working to profit from our lasting, disembodied attention through user-generated content, Five Faces is an engaging and finite 75 minutes. Having affordable professional theatre on our campus is something that we can take advantage of. Much like The Beatles’ song that plays in the show, “Come Together,” experience live performance and engage with social media in new ways. I must continue to emphasize: it is fun.
Of ethical questions on what is depicted online and onstage, I had reservations simply from reading Five Faces. Characters who represent many aspects of human experience for attention on platforms, where the reach of attention is primarily determined by what other users engage with, could produce similar harm onstage as it does online. That said, in the theatre, my experience was different.
I found Theatre Erindale’s Five Faces funny and beautiful and deeply sad. The performance brought an experience of social media into the theatre. In this way, it is a play that may resonate widely as digital technology seems so omnipresent, mediating so many of our experiences and the identities we proclaim. The plays lack of resolution makes me wonder how we might intervene, and whether it is possible.
La Selva’s directorial choices show care for the audience experience, bring an affective trajectory to the stage, and lend to dynamic ensemble work. These are trademark qualities that I appreciated in previous Theatre Erindale productions with her direction.
Running until November 4, 2023, The Five Faces for Evelyn Frost is the first of four mainstage and two studio productions presented as part of the UTM/Sheridan Theatre + Drama Studies program this year. Buy tickets through the UTM website.