“Did someone see me today?” the real question in A Craigslist Cantata

The show playing at the Citadel Theatre’s Club space until February 23rd is actually called Do You Want What I Have Got?: A Craigslist Cantata.  Two things attracted me to this show initially.  I’m fascinated by portrayals of internet culture, particularly affectionate perceptive ones, and I’ve always liked Bill Richardson’s writing on CBC Radio.  The writers credited on this show are Veda Hille, Bill Richardson, and Amiel Gladstone.  A third incentive was that I acquired a pair of tickets as part of an auction win at the Rapid Fire Theatre fundraising Date Night auction.

There were six performers on stage.  Barry Mirochnick was mostly playing the drums, and Marguerite Witvoet was mostly playing the piano, but everybody sang and most of the other performers (Qasim Khan, Selina Martin, Josh Epstein, and Bree Greig) played an instrument at some point too.

Basically, the show was a set of monologues and songs which were all sourced in quirky ads on Craiglist, the big classified-ads website – stuff for sale, stuff to give away, looking for stuff to buy, roommates wanted, dating ads.  The Craigslist category of “missed connections” is one of the most fun parts to read on the actual website, with people taking a second chance at trying to talk to strangers they didn’t manage to talk to the first time, and the show recreates lots of those odd attempts – the mugger who “really felt a connection” with his victim, the woman whose bus-riding companion “smelled really really really good”, and the man who was attracted when “you dropped your Bible and I saw your thong”.    One of the stronger musical and thematic pieces was the song where they take turns singing “I was the one who..” “You were the one who …” as in many Missed Connections stories.

It would be easy for a show like this to stay a set of disconnected skits/songs, but several themes or through-lines keep it tied together just enough.  There’s a reader who corrects the posters’ common writing mistakes.  There are a few re-appearing characters and melodic recurrences, and some interesting segues – the woman wanting to convince her husband his long-lived pet dove has died, then a comment on Noah sending out a dove from the ark, then a reference to Noah’s covenant and “our covenant with Craig”.

My favourite bits included “Looking for a metal head roommate for a metal house” and the song listing all seventeen varieties of penguins in alphabetical order.  The title song “Do you want what I have got” was rhythmically interesting because it seemed to be using the same device I remember from the Devo punk track “Are we not men? We are Devo” where the same syllables are switched from stressed to unstressed beats.  Is there a name for that?

The characters almost never interact with each other during the songs and narratives.  I didn’t get a sense about any of the ads ever getting answered.  And that’s consistent with the experience of reading Craigslist on line, because it’s set up with all the responses being private rather than having the option of starting discussion threads that others can see.  Without seeing any happy endings or contacts made, the one-sided stories told in the show come out feeling lonely, unsuccessful, and isolated.  The more significant question asked by the characters is not so much “Do you want what I have got?” but the other repeated question of the show “Did you see me today?”, as the characters are all seeking to find connection and acknowledgement.   While I found this aesthetically coherent and satisfying, I tend to feel protective when I feel like people are making facile criticism of internet life as inherently isolating.  Just reading the ads, or watching their staged versions, without getting to see the other sides of the story and the connections found, can easily give misleading impressions.   I know I’m probably preaching to the converted here, because most of my readers either come across my blog posts because I mention them on Facebook or tag them on twitter or because someone retweets or posts a link.  But in case you don’t already know this, not all Craigslist posts are unsuccessful, not all Craigslist posters are lonely losers, and not everyone on the internet has no in-person social life.  Not even close.

The Club space worked really well for this minimally-staged intimate musical presentation.  The acoustics are good, and the small audience is close.  The performers did not drop out of character before or after the performance to speak directly to the audience.  I don’t know why that surprised me – maybe because it felt like something partly between a concert and a theatrical presentation.   Tickets for shows through next Sunday afternoon are available through the Citadel box office.


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