Oct 272015

“*****”Smartphones is one of the smartest, sharpest satires I’ve seen. It’s also one of the shortest—the subtitle’s “pocket-size” doesn’t lie. And in its refreshing brevity is soul of its conspicuous wit.” John Stotlenberg.

Oct 272015


‘Smartphones–a pocket-size farce’ at Ambassador Theater

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

by  on October 25, 2015
saw this show last nite. LMAO. 2 funny. OMG. u G2G.

So might read a hasty text from a self-absorbed hipster about Smartphones, the ridiculously delightful farce now playing at Mead Lab Flashpoint. Presented by Ambassador Theater in a brisk and bracing production directed by Joe Banno, Smartphones is a hilarious comedy of bad manners about our era’s inner Narcissus, whose vain reflection now stares back from a handheld screen.

Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.

Spanish playwright Emilio Williams writes with tongue drolly in cheek, except when stuck out and blowing a raspberry. Two young married couples—Amelia and Barnaby, and Dagobert and Chantal—meet up in the home of their friend Fedé, who is absent but expected imminently. The husbands are friends from high school; the wives, from college. And in an endlessly silly meta-theatrical joke, their wait for Fedé echos Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (except now and then they receive “On my way” texts from him and follow his Facebook and Twitter feeds). Also skewering their self-referential, selfie-satisfied social world is a meta-joke hyperlinked to Sartre’s No Exit (except one or another will now and then run out to buy a bottle of booze).

Fedé’s cleaning lady, Marie (Ambassador Artistic Director and Founder Hanna Bondarewska, decked out in a latex maid’s getup and yellow rubber gloves), opens the show lip syncing an operatic aria and amusingly flouncing about and flirting with the audience seated round the stage. The stark, simple set (designed along with the flashy lighting by David Ghatan) features four leather swivel chairs, a black-upholstered table, and an anachronistic green plastic telephone perched upon a red pillar.

The couples enter and banter, and each spouse carries a constantly consulted smartphone. The landline rings auspiciously but they let it go—because “nobody answers their phone anymore.” Obsessed with their  wi-fi’ed online lives, at one point the two women text a convo in the dark, their faces lit solely by their smartphones. It’s one of googobs of clever bits. There’s also a running joke about “spotty coverage”—to which they all say “ewww!” Episodically they all spaz out in weird green light and loud static, as if in dreaded disconnection from a signal—meanwhile their disconnection from one another fazes them not at all.

So outrageously and hilariously shallow are the four of them that they speak earnestly about the benefits of outsourcing their children to China for adoption. “There are things in life that a horoscope can’t prepare you for,” one of them laments. Suddenly a text message comes in. Is it from Fedé? “Oh no, it was just my fridge. I’ve got an alert that we ran out of margarine.” Banno’s program note aptly characterizes Smartphones as “‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians,’ as if written by a blogging Oscar Wilde.”

Ariana Almajan brought a very funny Valley Girl inflection to Amelia. Moriah Whiteman played the ditz Chantal with incouciant fizz.

Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev.Shravan Amin (Dagobert) and Moriah Whiteman (Chantall), and Ariana Almajan (Amelia). Photo by Valentine Radev. 

And Shravan Amin gave Dagobert bumbling charm. Because Bruce Rauscher had become unable to perform as Barnaby, Tekle Ghebremeschel stepped in and played the role on book. I can attest he did well, and the last-minute substitution did not detract the slightest from my complete enjoyment.

Smartphones is one of the smartest, sharpest satires I’ve seen. It’s also one of the shortest—the subtitle’s “pocket-size” doesn’t lie. And in its refreshing brevity is the soul of its conspicuous wit.


Running Time: 55 minutes, with no intermission.



Oct 242015

Shravan Amin as Dagobert and Moriah Whiteman as Chantal in “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” (Valentine Radev)

By Celia Wren October 27 at 2:48 PM

Is Google making us stupid? Maybe, maybe not. But the wired lifestyle has certainly dimmed the acumen of Amelia, Barnaby, Chantal and Dagobert, the principal characters in Emilio Williams’s “Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce.” The four narcissists are so distracted by their mobile gadgets that they can barely carry on a conversation, let alone discern the web of sexual intrigue that complicates their every move.

Spanish playwright Williams doesn’t limit himself to spoofing cellphone addiction in this strenuously waggish one-act, which the Ambassador Theater has mounted (in English) at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint: “Smartphones” nods to such cultural touchstones as “Waiting for Godot,” “No Exit,” the films of Luis Buñuel and classic farce. It’s an ambitious conflation of social satire, antic comedy and highbrow allusion, but the result sometimes feels labored. And the deliberately exaggerated acting style in director Joe Banno’s production can be exhausting to watch.

Still, guffaws regularly erupted from the audience at a recent performance of “Smartphones.” It was a show-must-go-on moment: With a medical condition sidelining Bruce Alan Rauscher, who had been scheduled to play Barnaby, actor Tekle Ghebremeschel performed the role, script in hand, while Ambassador Theater’s artistic director, Hanna Bondarewska, shouldered Ghebremeschel’s previous role — the Maid. Both replacements (who will likely continue in the parts) did a fine job: Ghebremeschel is on the way to pinning down Barnaby’s self-congratulatory, sexist personality. And Bondarewska seemed wholly at ease as she fluttered around the stage in what appeared to be a vinyl French maid outfit.

Even the script in Ghebremeschel’s hand could be seen as apt: “Smartphones” contains meta-theatrical touches, including voiced stage directions. The story line nods to “Waiting for Godot”: Dagobert (Shravan Amin) and Barnaby, and their respective wives, Chantal (Moriah Whiteman) and Amelia (Ariana Almajan), have gathered at the home of their friend Fedé, who has yet to arrive. As they wait — and wait — the couples chat, bicker and trade confessions, but above all interact with their cellphones, checking Facebook and Twitter, taking photos and at one point looking up the line “Hell is other people” on Wikipedia. (The line is from “No Exit.”) In a whimsical conceit that reflects the characters’ handheld-device addiction, periodic bursts of static make them flail, as if they were suffering from fits.

Channeling these personalities, the actors often employ melodramatic or mannered intonations and movements, underscoring the absurdity of the characters’ over-amped reactions to minor issues. (A battery is losing charge! A telemarketer is calling!) The gleefully hammy sound cues work to the same end. The effect is perhaps all the more pointed because of the undramatic and indeed minimalist modern-apartment set. (David Ghatan designed the set and lights, and Lynly A. Saunders the status-signaling costumes. The sound design, credited to Gabriel Dib, draws on the one created for the world premiere of “Smartphones” in Chicago. The Ambassador production is presented in partnership with the Spanish Embassy and Spain Arts & Culture.)

Such studiously marshaled production elements notwithstanding, “Smartphones” comes across as less piquant than “Medea’s Got Some Issues,” the Williams play that appeared in the Capital Fringe Festival in 2014. This script may appeal to a broader audience, however: These days, familiarity with Greek tragedy is less common than cellphone dependence.

Wren is a freelance writer.

Smartphones: A Pocket-Size Farce By Emilio Williams. Directed by Joe Banno; assistant lighting designer, E-hui Woo; sound adaptation and movement, Michelle Taylor; music, Gabriel Dib. About 60 minutes. Through Nov. 15 at the Mead Theatre Lab at Flashpoint, 916 G St. NW. Visitwww.aticc.org. Tickets: $20-$35


Oct 212015

‘Sex, Lies and Nomophobia’ in Emilio Williams’ ‘Smartphones’ at Ambassador Theater Opening Tonight

by  on October 20, 2015
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Smartphones, A Pocket-Size Farce – produced by and Ambassador Theater in partnership with the Embassy of Spain and Spain arts and Culture, directed by Helen Hayes Award recipient Joe Banno – opens at The Mead Lab Flashpoint on October 22, 2015.

Oct 20 - Nov 15, 2015 At Flashpoint 916 G Street, NW, Washington DC 20001 www.aticc.org Graphic Design by Lukasz Pinkowski

Doesn’t existence seem totally absurd at times and life too restrictive? Don’t we wish we were free of social norms and do as we like? Aren’t we our own worst enemies at times? Emilio Williams*, the author of Smartphones, asks the same questions yet as a dramatist has the opportunity to dream our dreams and nightmares on stage. In Smartphones, inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the avant-garde playwright takes his privilege to the absurdist limit. Mixing the Absurd, Ridiculous and the Surreal with a layer of ‘digital madness’, he brings human shadows and insecurities to light, making us reflect on life and to laugh, nervously at times, in the process.

Emilio Williams is a dramatist who uses his medium like a magnifying glass, bringing into focus complex aspects of our psyche challenged by today’s fast-paced existence. Just like his influences – Beckett, Ludlam, Moliere, and Bunuel, he is acutely aware of what is difficult, awkward and absurd in life and chooses to talk about it using humor, farce and parody. “Nothing is more radical than humor” says Williams, whose multi-dimensional plays combine laughter with existential themes and a pertinent social satire. Smartphones, his only play that takes part in one set, one room and in real time, is also a great example of Williams’ reaction against conventions of the Realistic Theater.

“Your comedies tend to be silly but not stupid” said William’s friend once, and the author liked the comment. In case of Smartphones silly and serious go together. After all the play is a tribute to and a parody of the Theatre of the Absurd, as well as an example of William’s avoidance of literalness of theater realism. Also, true to the Theater of the Ridiculous Manifesto and its canon of ‘the free person,’ Smartphones’ personas are free to act in a spontaneous and silly way whilst not compromising seriousness of the matter. “The free person, as distinct from an authoritarian phony or the civilized adult, is erotic, socially self-assertive, playful and imaginative” (Brecht: 117) and so are the play’s characters….TO READ MORE