Here, I got one for you.
An American visiting Japan walks onto a train. Not sure where his stop is, he asks the person standing next to him if he speaks English. The person next to him, with a shocked look on his face, does something with his phone, speaks into it and points the phone at the American. A message appears on the phone saying, “TRANSLATION: Would the big bad man, please leave me alone?”
No, this isn’t the opening to a joke. It was my first exposure to a smartphone in 2001.
As I looked around the train I noticed that everyone’s head was down, looking at a phone. Not one person was interacting with or even acknowledging the other person next to him.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the seed of the idea of what would become my play, Low Tech.
Six years later, when the iPhone and Droid smartphones had been introduced to America, I got on the Los Angeles subway and was reminded of my trip to Japan. I looked around and saw a sea of people looking into their phones, desperate to avoid contact with the people around them.
I started to giggle as I thought to myself — what if just one of these people threw the phone down and started talking to the people next to them? How much chaos would that cause, and would that person be viewed as crazy?
This was the basic idea that I kept in the back of my head as I wrote Low Tech. Billions of people are connected by various devices, but hardly anyone is really communicating directly with each other anymore.
The irony of doing a show like this, in this day and age, became very clear during its first reading. The actors pulled out their iPads and tablets, all with the various script reading apps that they all liked to use. I began receiving Twitter and Facebook status updates about the reading before it had even finished.
Luckily the play is a comedy that pokes fun at this exact scenario, and it’s important to note that the play isn’t anti-technology. Instead it explores satirically a world in which people have gone too far in one direction — to the point that when one person just wants to turn her gadgets off and get a little peace and quiet, she seems strange and her ideas are fascinating and scary to everyone else.
To illustrate this point, I took the comedy as far as I could toward absurdism. Director Chelsea Sutton had to deal with two dance numbers, nine actors playing multiple roles, and a group of consumers who spoke together in a Greek-style chorus — because, let’s face it, you haven’t really seen one of those lately, and I always felt they were due for a comeback.
Of course writing lines for nine actors to speak in unison is one thing. Actually getting them to do it is another thing altogether. Fortunately for me, though, the director and cast were more than up to the challenge.
As I sat through rehearsals and previews, I found the play provokes conversation. And since this whole idea came from people not talking to each other, I guess I’ve done my job correctly. How will it all end? Well, to quote a line from the consumers in the show, “only time and this next light cue will tell us.”
Low Tech, Eclectic Company Theatre, 5312 Laurel Canyon Blvd, Valley Village 91607. Fri- Sat 8 pm, Sun 7 pm. Through May 19. Tickets: $18.Â www.eclecticcompanytheatre.org. 818-508-3003.
**All Low Tech production photos by Chelsea Sutton.
Jeff Folschinsky is a playwright living in Los Angeles, whose plays can be found at One Act Play Depot, Norman Maine and Big Dog Publishing.