Most of the media hullabaloo about modern technology has focused on kids today, so it’s refreshing to see Trap Door Theatre’s latest avant-garde production, Emilio Williams’ “Smartphones: A Pocket Size Farce,” train a critical and hilarious eye on how handheld computers affect relationships in people approaching middle age.
Amelia (Géraldine Dulex) and Barbany (Chris Popio) arrive minutes apart in the living room of an absent host’s house, and they immediately start arguing about whether either of them has a key to said house. In the middle of this argument, Chantal (Jodi Kingsley) and Dagobert (Antonio Brunetti) arrive attached at the hip, and another round of arguments begins, this time concerning the number of maids employed by their host, Fede. The rest of the play is an hour-long series of similarly petty arguments and minor revelations, but every moment is entertaining.
Williams makes several self-conscious references to Beckett and Buñuel, and while it’s clear he means this as an homage, it sometimes borders on simplistic “look what I did there” winking at the audience. Besides, it’s a strong play that doesn’t need those asides.
The cast is wonderful as a unit, but Jodi Kinglsey easily stands out as the most compelling of the group. She manages to humanize an absurdist character, and once you’ve seen that, you start to think that all absurdist comedies might be improved by such a performance. Kingsley’s assured presence makes Barnaby’s sexist rant against Chantal all the more perplexing. It’s off-putting to see any character pitched as the voice of reason in an absurdist play that usually shows all characters as equally foolish and powerless, and it doesn’t serve “Smartphones” well to attempt it by sympathizing with Barnaby.
These four characters text, tweet, and instagram their way through their lives. They don’t even raise their children; Chantal and Dagobert have sent their kids to China so they have more time to focus on the empty pursuits of the next generation iPhone and the prestige of associating with Fede, who never will show up. And when the batteries run out, they can’t even face each other. They just power down.