Internet and Identity Clash in Seth Bockley's Ask Aunt Susan
May 8, 2014
Digital connectivity supplants interpersonal connection in the world premiere production of Ask Aunt Susan, Seth Bockley's 21st century satire of the internet era, directed by Artistic Associate Henry Wishcamper and now in rehearsal. Inspired by Nathanael West's 1933 novella Miss Lonelyhearts-a Great Depression-era commentary of urban alienation through the eyes of an eponymous male newspaper advice columnist-Ask Aunt Susan is a modern story of how one man gets swept away in online life. Bockley, the Goodman's Playwright-in-Residence and 2009 Ofner Prize winner, introduces "Aunt Susan" (played by Alex Stage, making his Goodman debut), a 20-something man moonlighting as an internet advice columnist, dispensing advice for women's everyday woes. As previously announced, the ensemble cast includes Marc Grapey as Steve; Meghan Reardon as Betty; Jennie Moreau as Lydia; and Robyn Scott as Jill.
"Ask Aunt Susan is funny and of-the-moment, brilliantly tipping its hat to West's Miss Lonelyhearts and reinventing the story for the 21st century," said Artistic Director Robert Falls. "I am an enormous fan of Seth's work-his remarkable talent and vision as a playwright and director is why we selected him as a Playwright-in-Residence. We are thrilled to present this play as Seth's Goodman debut, and hope for many more collaborations in the future."
Ask Aunt Susan exemplifies the Goodman's commitment to new play development. The first draft was written in 2010 during Bockley's time in the Goodman's Playwrights Unit-a year-long program designed to support and develop new works. In 2011, it received a workshop production in the New Stages Festival, which gave Bockley the chance to further develop and refine the play with an audience.
Ask Aunt Susan begins with a young man working on the fringes of the burgeoning internet industry as a writer and coder. When an ill-conceived scheme to swindle Yelp.com lands him in hot water, Steve, his brash, entrepreneurial boss, decides to create AskAuntSusan.com and advises the young man to moonlight as the online advice guru, "Aunt Susan." The scheme begins as a joke, allowing Steve to make a quick buck and Aunt Susan to keep up with his student loans-but Aunt Susan's followers become incredibly loyal and the constant, desperate requests from readers spark a "need to be needed" in Aunt Susan. As his internet reputation mushrooms, so does Aunt Susan's web of deceit-and soon the phenomenon is much larger than anyone could have imagined.
"Seth's fascinating play offers a sharp and very funny critique of American life today, our current internet and media culture, the role faith plays in an increasingly cynical world, and one man's struggle to live up to his own ideals," said director Henry Wishcamper, whose current and upcoming productions include The Dance of Death, now playing at Writers Theatre and A Christmas Carol and The Little Foxes in the Goodman's 2014/2015 Season. "We have assembled an incredible cast and design team and Seth has created a vivid world presenting us with opportunities to play visually with both digital technologies and film noir sensibilities. It's going to be great fun."
The design team includes Kevin Depinet (set), Richard Woodbury (sound), Alison Siple (costumes), Keith Parham (lights) and Mike Tutaj (projections). Kimberly Osgood is the production stage manager and Tanya Palmer is the dramaturg.
Ask Aunt Susan runs May 24 - June 22 in the Owen Theatre (opening night is Monday, June 2). Tickets ($10 - $40; subject to change) are on sale now and can be purchased at GoodmanTheatre.org/AuntSusan, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).
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