Deeply touched by the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata. Veda Hille and Bill Richardson have written a non-linear musical that uses actual Craigslist ads for its lyrics. Craigslist, in case you’ve been in a hole, is an online one-stop-shopping for finding whatever it is you want— from someone you saw on the train that day, to an old trumpet, to homes for your cats. It’s a pared down, non-glitzy site—just text–where you have to use words to sell what it is you want to sell, or get what you want. Ads are quirky. I think with the number of them, people have to come up with newer and more outlandish ways to make their ad stand out. It’s not a Tumblr site so there’s no pics in your subject line to make you stand out–just a line of text. What is Craigslist anyway?
The musical is episodic, going from ad to ad, occasionally reverberating or repeating a motif in another ad, enough to make it stick together well. There are a number of “characters” who have very specific and ludicrous (sometimes even strange) desires and wants. It would be easy just to laugh at all of them–and we do. Audience tonight was having a great time laughing it up at the woman trying to sell her 300 stuffed penguins, singing an alphabetical list of the different species of penguins and hoping to find a special child who might want them all. Or the man who wants someone to sit in his bathtub of cooked noodles… Or the wanderers who keep missing each other–though having a brief moment with someone they fall for.
It would be easy to laugh, except Hille and Richardson don’t let us off that easy. They have found a way to make that search poignant, a statement on 21st Century technology becoming the medium for expressing our desires. There’s a song though that Hille sings in the middle–a quite surprising song about Noah and the doves he sends out into the world to find land. And this becomes the central metaphor that pulls the show together in a quite exposing, vulnerable, emotional way— that Craigslist is a collection of those doves, sent out–with no replies, really. “No one learns how the story ends. Did they find each other? We don’t know,” Hille says in the Artist talkback tonight. There are only beginning moments–story starters, if you will–but we don’t know if any of the missed connections actually connect.
Hille and Richardson found the longing. “Will anyone see me today?” keeps echoing through the cantata and keeps pushing our ad writers around and around on buses and running through parks and drinking in cafes, hoping to be seen. And it was all very touching–that we have this yearning to be seen or noticed by someone who will love us, for all our quirks, and our needs, and our kinks. That yearning has always been there, I think, but never have we had such a public forum to speak from, cheaply, anonymously, quickly. We can write an ad seconds after we think of it–see it posted right away. These aren’t the ads from the newspaper anymore–they are quick, self-published, self-edited, self-written. And they speak volumes about the human condition, that we hope someone is noticing us in this land of strangers.
The Atlantic recently ran an article, “Is Facebook making us lonely?” by Stephen Marche. In it he asks questions about whether or not being connected to all those friends is really making us more social or more shallow. It’s a thought provoking article. We talked with the cast about this tonight. Cameron, one of the actors, thought it made us more social–but with complete strangers–and heightened the ability to play and disguise and remake yourself online. Allen, another actor, didn’t have the internet or an email address. He found himself rarely invited out since, he determined, everyone was using email to contact each other. For him, email had circumvented him.
It was a fascinating musical. People were LMAO almost ROFLMAO. And they were 🙂 and 😀 so much. The part where the pets ask God why he’s left them behind in the rapture—mew!–was hilarious. And the Grammar Police show up occasionally. Cast is amazing. They do a great job with strange texts of actual ads! There’s so many funny moments in this show. But for me, what sticks is the character arc of Humanity that starts off having had a small moment of physical intimacy (a bus encounter, sitting next to a man, smelling him) and then hoping to recapture that by finding him on the internet—through a maze of strange desires and ads that revealed how incomplete our normal everyday human interaction can be–which sends us leaping to the internet to find our missing parts as if the internet were a magical wishing well— culminating in a big chorus of Missed Connections where the whole population is wandering right there in front of each other and they can’t find what they really want. And what they’re left with is their voices rising together as a group desiring, wanting, hoping, sending it up like a dove, hoping for just a bit of relief.
I know, I’m the marketing director for the place that’s putting this musical on–but I think you will like the musical a lot. I think it will stay with you. And I think it makes us understand ourselves better. Writing is best when it reveals something about the human condition–and musicals, I think, are a way to really make us absorb the messages with our hearts as well as our heads. Listening to catchy songs aren’t a bad way to spend an evening either.
Do You want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata by the Arts Club Theatre Company, written by Veda Hille and Bill Richardson plays Thursday, 8pm, and Saturday, 3pm & 8pm. Come see it while it’s here.