What's it about?
Connected is about the perceived loneliness of the modern world, told through the eyes of high school students.
What'd I experience?
It’s Saturday night and it’s been a long day of walking around and a long week of waiting for texts that didn’t come. By the time I reach 59E59 I'm so sleepy I wonder if I can take a nap in the lounge. Inside Theatre C I select a seat in the front row, just steps from the stage, trusting my fear of public embarrassment will keep me awake. On a screen hanging above the stage plays a loop of overly-serious high school prom proposals. I try not to look, because tonight I'm too tired to even cringe. As the chatter of audience members lowers into silence and the lights dim around me, I'm about to close my eyes.
But then something about the stage, maybe the way its alternating pink and blue lights make it look like the Hotline Bling video, makes me feel like I've just started to dream. I decide that this is a good enough reason to stay awake.
On stage sits a Meghan on her mother's lap. Her mother reassures her that soon no one will even remember what happened. She doesn’t seem convinced, the whole school saw whatever it was that happened.
The lights dim as Meghan stops crying and replays the scene that led her to crying on her mother's lap. A boy, Evan, enters wearing headphones. He takes one of the headphones out as Meghan tells him that she has something to ask him. She puts on a song on her phone and starts dancing awkwardly. She starts undressing, starting with her sneakers. Last to come off are Meghan’s pants, which land right on me when she throws them. She sprints over to take them back. Written on her belly is a single word and a question mark: prom? I didn’t want to cringe tonight, yet here I am.
Meghan looks hopefully at Evan, who looks at her mortified. I know this won't end well. He gently tells Meghan that, no, he won’t go to prom with her, that he’s already going with someone else: his girlfriend. The second-hand embarrassment I feel for Meghan goes from grave to unfathomable when it’s revealed that her cringe-y prom proposal was not only seen by the whole school, but is currently going viral on the internet.
Perhaps like a thing that happens only in dreams, Meghan’s viral status turns out to be kind of a good thing. She’s become such an icon of inspiration and humiliation that she’s asked to give interviews on talk shows, children with incurable illnesses want her to visit them, and Rachel Ray designates Justin Bieber as her new prom date. Even with all the positive attention, Meghan feels alienated; people talk about her but never to her. When prom day actually comes, Justin Bieber dances with only the popular girls, not Meghan. She sits in a corner drinking illicitly as couples make out next to her. As I start to finally connect with Meghan, as someone who usually sits alone while others make out, she disappears offstage to be serenaded as part of the Justin Bieber Prom Package.
Prom ends and a new vignette begins, this one a depiction of the high school house party, complete with red solo cups and empty bottles strewn everywhere.
Jill Beale, the "second or third most popular girl" in school, and her less important friend Sarah walk in, demanding to know where the party is. A truly dreamy guy named Sam tells them that the five people out back is, indeed, the party. Angry and guided by Snapchats of fun times from their friends, the girls storm out in pursuit of a better party. Unable to find the party in their phones, they promptly return to Sam whose party has already been raided and emptied by cops. Still, Jill and Sarah make Sam take duck-lip-booty-pop pictures of them for Snapchat, posting the best one with the caption "this party rocks!" When asked by Sam why they were lying about a party that clearly sucks, they respond matter-of-factly that "no one's gonna know it sucks if no one's here."
After Sarah passes out, Sam and Jill stay up late talking about how not one of Jill's 1,200 Facebook friends came to her dad's funeral and how Sam is not on any social media but somehow still manages to have a small circle of good friends. The two seem to have found balance and friendship in each other yet once morning comes, Jill tells Sam that he's not someone she can see herself associating with and leaves. I find myself annoyed, first with Jill for rejecting Sam, and then with the world because Sam is largely fictional.
Next begins the part of the story that was I found visually intriguing, but also emotionally depressing. Several actors dressed in clothing that I can describe only as Sexy Viking Chic march stiffly onto the stage. the screen above informs that they are characters in World of Warcraft, a role-playing computer game I know nothing about. Sharon, a fidgety teenager trying to figure out her life after high school sits by her computer behind the characters, wearing clothes designated for comfort and sadness.
In contrast, played by the same classically beautiful actress that plays Jill Beale, Sharon's purple-haired Warcraft character flirts shyly with a male character. Very reluctantly Sharon agrees to meet up with the man behind the character IRL. This part I do know something about: talk to a man who make himself perfect to you through text, make yourself perfect to him through text, meet in person, watch it all fall apart, and go home wondering why you ever even tried.
But trying is the theme of the next and final vignette, which seems to grapple with modern-day loneliness from a different perspective. This time, an older woman sits alone on a bench, waiting for a date that isn't coming. Two teen boys spy on her from afar as one of them says, "If the bitch stood me up I'd be out in 15 minutes." The other boy does not say much, suffering from the guilt of catfishing his math teacher.
In the next moments the boy works up the courage to apologize to her, first indirectly then very directly. Having intimate knowledge of their mutual loneliness, he asks her out. She dismisses the proposal as "wildly inappropriate," somberly saying that good relationships are built over years of repeated togetherness, which is not a simple task. For a moment it looks like she's exhausted by the process enough to give it up. But then - the grand finale! - the boy makes her promise that she'll keep trying, that all you have to do is keep trying.
If this had been an actual dream this would be the moment when I wake up very disgruntled, possibly muttering obscenities. I sit through all of this high school bullshit and you tell me I just have to keep trying? Thanks for the advice, it is absolutely useless to me.