Review: ‘An Invitation Out’ at Quantum Dragon Theatre (*****)

by Charles Kruger

Isabel Langen performs with admirable zest in “An Invitation Out.” Photo Credit: Molly Kate Photography.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

With “An Invitation Out,” playwright Shualee Cook updates the Victorian comedy of manners for the internet age.

Billed as a “neo-victorian virtual reality comedy,” this play is a gem!  It is a superb comedy-of-manners, peppered with hilariously funny epigrams, slyly referencing Oscar Wilde in a spectacularly successful homage to the master.

It is just astonishingly good, fall off your seat funny, and also has a great deal to say about the times.

Shualee Cook is a rare bird: a playwright who can write in epigrams while still achieving a depth of character, quality storytelling, and a reach beyond mere cleverness.

The occasion of the play, as befits a comedy of manners, is a party. The twist is that the party takes place not in the real world, but in a chatroom, and all the attendees are avatars. The use of internet locations as settings for plays has become a familiar contemporary trope. Examples include Madhuri Shekar’s gentle and pleasing rom-com “In Love and Warcraft,” and Jennifer Haley’s controversial “The Nether” about an online fantasy playground for pedophiles.

“An Invitation Out” is quite original in drawing its parallel between the conventional manners of the Victorian drawing room comedy and the conventions of internet interaction.

I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to tell you that the play’s title, “An Invitation Out,” is a double entendre. One meaning is that all the characters have been invited out to a party in a chatroom. However, at the party itself, characters are also invited out to return to the real world, and escape internet addiction. That, of course, is quite a serious theme and, by the end of the play, it is given a surprising and thought-provoking twist.

But on the way to these depths, we are treated to something marvelously funny. Playwright Cook has an unflagging wit, and is one of those rare playwrights who can pay homage to the great Oscar Wilde, without seeming inadequate by comparison. Here are a couple of Cook’s bon mots which she has placed in the mouths of her highly articulate characters:

“Virtues are much like loans – you often need them from other people, but there’s no point in requesting one from yourself.” (If I told you this were Wilde, would you not believe? It isn’t. It’s Cook.)

In a nod to Lady Bracknell, Cook even includes a judgmental dowager aunt (“Scandalicious” – Aunt Scandy) who offers this criticism of her nephew: “As for your appearance, nephew, I am more disappointed than usual. A man of your talents, in an avatar the exact age you actually are – I’ve never seen such a vulgar lack of ambition in all my life.”

Well, LOL!

With characters who are avatars and settings that are supposedly computer simulations, it is not surprising that costumes and sets are an especially charming feature of this production. Kudos to designers Kathleen Qiu and Katie Whitcraft.

For a good time out, theatre lover, you should certainly accept this invitation!

“An Invitation Out”” continues at Potrero Stage through December 29th. For further information, click here.


Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Please Read This (click here)


“An Invitation Out” by Shualee Cook. Produced by Quantum Dragon Theater. Director: Kieran Beccia. Scenic Design: Katie Whitcraft. Lighting Design: Sara “Edie” Saavedra. Sound Design: Michael Kelly. Costume Design: Katherine Qui. Projections Design: Colin Johnson. Poster Design: Marisa Darabi. 

Cast:

Wridget: Will Livingston. FlyByNiteSOA: James Aarhualee on Oh. Buttercup EGL: Caitlen Evenson. Flutterbye99: Isabel Langen. Scandalicious7:  Caroline Portante. Laskin: Regina Leon. Maid/XLucidenialX: Emily Dwyer. XLucidenialX/Butler: Alex Chernow. ReverendVariety.org: Don Wood. 

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