Flashing Lights is billed as "A Fable About Our Digital Lives." Midway through Flashing Lights, the angsty daughter in the nuclear family performs a punk rock piece spiced with indecipherable intellectual platitudes and "fuck"s for a high school talent show. Yanked offstage, mid-song, by a frazzled school administrator, the daughter is distraught and petulant. The mother, concerned that the piece seemed so angry, asks what it meant. The daughter snaps back, "It's art, not a fable." It doesn't have to mean anything.
The Flashing Lights program contains artist notes about the research that the "Flashing Lights Collective" put into creating the show, and a bibliography. Don't let that intimidate. The text is by Guillermo Verdecchia (A Line in the Sand, The Art of Building a Bunker) and Adam Paolozza (Paolozzapedia) directs with clockwork precision and a sharp attention to metaphor. Both also perform in the show. And both are accomplished and clever clowns. And Flashing Lights is very, very funny in that great way that layers laughter over some dark, uncomfortable truths.
The play begins with a light, deadly accurate satire of how deeply and disastrously the digital world, particularly social media, has altered our daily routines. This evolves into a comic masterpiece as the fearless Dan Watson is subjected to the rise and fall of an internet sensation, the ecstasy and agony of celebrity for celebrity's sake, image over substance. And that evolves into an exploration of technology versus the flesh, and technology melding with flesh, and what it means to be human. Flashing Lights is heavily dependent on technology - sophisticated lighting, video and projections by the team of Ken MacKenzie and Melissa Joakim - and while also milked for irony, it provides a constant visual stimulus that simultaneously mocks our overly connected world while making the monologues entertaining to a word-weary world.
And the monologues are the heart of Flashing Lights. Ideas piled upon ideas in a satirical Tower of Babel-speak that is also crystal clear. They are vicious satires on sales pitches, double speak, buzz words masquerading as content, academic writing, Sarah Connor in The Terminator, scientific jargon, Laurie Anderson, fake news, and, of course, artist notes. They are adreneline-fuelled versions of the horrors one encounters when reading artist grant applications or pretentious dance/theatre/visual arts press releases. That they are hilarious in their wicked vivisection, they also manage to impart a number of serious ideas: the dark, uncomfortable truths.
The frenetic pace and constant visual/technological re-invention can't quite be sustained for the entire 90 minutes - and the final film segment could be read as either a mis-step or a final satirical jab - but what has come before is so rich that one already has enough ideas to mull over and vicious lines to treasure that it doesn't matter. The artist notes, by Paolozza, end with: "We hope that the real meaning of the work will emerge from your encounter with it, and that it will continue to live on in your imagination." It certainly does. My other half and I had - while agreeing that Flashing Lights was hilarious, entertaining and thought-provoking - two entirely different takes on what were the crucial and thematic insights. Fable and art.
Flashing Lights continues until Sun, Oct 22 at the Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen St W. theatrecentre.org