Pittsburgh Fringe 2018
There is a strange and fuzzy line of demarcation between social media and real life, where the temptation from Facebook or Instagram to follow our bliss looks so appealing through the well-crafted world of bloggers and hash-taggers. This is the world of #vanlife. Real life friends Kimmy Leff and Casey Thomas play Kimmy and Casey, two down and out millennials who decide to join the downsizing movement and enter the sphere of professional social media mavens. As these two discover, the world they are trying to emulate is as much a fantasy as the world they are trying to portray.
Blending storytelling, physical theatre, and social commentary #vanlife is a clever, current exploration of the very real world struggles of a generation who live their failures and successes in the public eye, beguiled by the lure of something better, and sold a bad bill of goods. A new take on an old story, #vanlife takes the saying “you can’t run away from your problems” literally. Throughout the show our two wayward friends reveal themselves and their home lives, the journey which has brought them to this moment, parallel paths to isolation, and the need to feel they are a part of something, even if in the end, it is a façade.
This is a show created for a fringe venue, with a minimal but effective set, and ingenious use of props such as two touch lights to create not only the headlights of a bus, but a brilliantly simple solution to creating a car crash, with the addition of a live actor as the van. With the limited commentary from our anthropomorphic home on the road, I found myself wanting to hear more from our magical mystery machine, how he felt about this decision, and his impressions of his passenger/partners.
Thematically #vanlife isn’t breaking new ground, exploring well-worn themes such as homosexuality in small town rural America, and feelings of isolation and manic depression in post-adolescence, but their modern approach set to the backdrop of disillusionment in the social media age of excessive exhibitionism keeps it fresh and immediate and the actors have such an intense personal connection to the material that one does wonder where the lines of theatre and reality merge. Kimmy and Casey embrace their stories with a desperate ferocity that is exciting to watch.
Adding to the heightened reality aspect of the show is the stylistic choice to perform in a reader’s theatre style, which has the actors never directly addressing each other but rather always speaking away from one another which though at first I found confusing, served to invite the audience into this #vanlife experience without making us feel like voyeurs, but instead like passengers sitting between our two anti-heroes in their most intimate interchanges.
Every aspect of this show was tight, well-rehearsed, and stylistically consistent. For fans of very traditional theatre, this show may be a bit too highly stylized for their tastes but this is avant garde, risk-based, physical theatre is executed brilliantly and incredibly worth the journey.