The demise of television, it appears, happened before the medium even began. The End of TV, a multimedia theater piece mounted by the Manual Cinema troupe, filters shadow puppets, cardboard cutouts, and good old-fashioned pantomime through live cameras to depict the alienating effects of a consumer culture gone terribly wrong.
The idiot box—that glorified source of televised relief and anxiety—features as prominently as a theatrical tool as it does in the lives of the piece’s characters, who have all been impacted by the closing of a Rust Belt factory some time in the ’90s. Their plights and misadventures, sketched in broad outlines, make for an easy-to-follow message about the lonely perils of modernity. The medium, however, is a bit harder to explain.
A stage stripped completely of glamour is divided into three segments: to the right is the five-piece band, which performs moody, eclectic melodies; to the left is a green screen where actors mouth along to old-school TV ads. Center stage is a mix of screens, overhead projectors, and cameras—all populated by an extremely capable group of artists who alternate between performing and projecting. All the commotion onstage translates neatly onto a large screen above the action; our attention torn between the messy and real, and the televised.
Director Julia Miller wrangles all of the disparate elements in Kyle Vegter and Ben Kauffman’s “screenplay” into an energetic attack on apathy in the age of home shopping networks and impersonal termination letters. The overarching gist of the thing? That, uh, television is bad, or something. It’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before and, as the plot expands to include dementia and fraught father/daughter bonds, gets messier.
Still, the thrill—and it truly is thrilling—of seeing these artists seamlessly perform so many technical and physical duties underscores its themes of isolation and connectivity in a hypermediated world is unlike anything seen outside of an experimental art gallery. If its sign-of-the-times tone toward technology and isolation comes off a bit too pessimistic at times, well, it’s somewhat refreshing to see such a firm stance in a period obsessed with finding “the good” in both sides of an argument.
THE END OF TV. THROUGH 1.27 AT EMERSON PARAMOUNT CENTER. 559 WASHINGTON ST., BOSTON. ARTSEMERSON.ORG