The information superhighway is a busy thoroughfare, and in this age of intense social media engagement, there are more on-ramps than anyone can begin to count.
Where does our information come from, exactly? And how do we parse truth from opinion or, even more dangerous, “subjective” news sources? And how does the American government fit into it all?
These are questions posed by the New York theatrical collective The Civilians in (I am) Nobody’s Lunch, an experimental cabaret-type show using the real words of average American citizens, from their responses to questions asked in the wake of 9-11 and during the second George W. Bush administration.
Nobody’s Lunch makes its southeastern debut this weekend at The Mar in St. Petersburg. Director Nick Hoop says the show – which references government coverups, conspiracy theories, fearmongering and threats to democracy real and imagined – is timeless.
“I think there’s an eerie sort of particular relevance to what the piece says now, versus what it said in 2003, when they started working on it,” Hoop believes. “Especially at the present moment when you have a large majority of the people who feel one thing about something specific the government is telling you, and then a different group of people feeling another.”
Like the staged version of Studs Terkel’s Working, the play attempts to bypass the fictionalized world of theater and plug the audience directly into something completely real.
“Sometimes some of the stuff is kind of difficult to listen to, because you’re hearing things that some real people said. And the extra level of eeriness is when you realize that over the course of 18, 19 years, not much has changed with regard to how we feel, and how we talk about specific aspects of our country.”
Civilians artistic director Steve Cosson, who is credited with writing the script, has said that his show is, literally, about the politics of information – how do we know that something we hear is real?
The eight songs I (I am) Nobody’s Lunch were composed by the late Michael Friedman. Hoop watched a TED Talk in which Friedman explained his musical motives.
“He said that he wanted his songs to be stand-alone pop songs that for the most part help enrich the themes of the story, rather than necessarily move the plot along,” explains Hoop.
“And in (I am) Nobody’s Lunch, there is no plot – except for the plots against people, as the characters say in the show.
“It’s stylized as a concert, as a cabaret, but the songs are supposed to give us a moment for self-reflection, rather than moving the story forward.”
Titles include “It’s Scary How Easy It Is,” “The Song of Progressive Disenchantment,” “The Telephone Song” and “Schrodinger’s Cat.” Yes, despite the subject matter there are moments of great humor and snappy, memorable melodies. Everyone in the cast sings.
“For me,” says Hoop, the songs reach an emotional core that you simply can’t get to when you have one specific person at a time trying to reiterate a statement, or a point.”
The first production under Hoop’s Turkey Creek Theatre Collective banner, (I am) Nobody’s Lunch isn’t your grandma’s stage play – it’s a far cry from Rodgers and Hammerstein, or Wendy Wasserstein, or even Shel Silverstein.
What it is, is real.
“I want to focus on telling stories that are more folksy and about the everyman,” the director explains. “Especially when it comes to America.” Hoop, an actor who was last seen onstage in Hand to God at Jobsite, calls Turkey Creek a “locally grown, farm-to-table theater company.”
The story, he insists, has made him listen more closely to opposing viewpoints. “I feel like the show has made me a more empathetic person,” Hoop says. “In terms of not necessarily believing in conspiracy theories, or a lot of the ones within the show, but more understanding how someone can draw a conclusion based on their previous experiences and their own personal feeling.”
Then again: “I don’t know if anyone’s going to leave the show more empathetic, but they might leave humming a tune and thinking ‘Wow – nothing’s changed.’”
There are four performances July 23-25. Details and tickets here.