by Josh Gross
Local writer and director Thomas Newby says his new play, Signal-to-Noise, opening today at The Water Cooler, is a modern love story.
With themes of Internet-crafted reality, post 9/11 security and the war in Afghanistan, it's definitely modern. But it's only a love story similar to the way the film 500 Days of Summer described itself: not as a love story, but a story about love—often a far darker topic.
Signal-to-Noise tells the story of an unnamed couple. He is an awkward, overweight schlub who spends most of his time online. She is carrying on an imaginary relationship with the government official she believes is monitoring her every move, and is constantly searching for something more sincere than the paranoid existence she inhabits. Their complex and dysfunctional relationship—from chance meeting at a bus stop to hurled insults and slammed doors—plays out over the course of the show.
"You're damaged. It's a good thing. Our neuroses fit together like puzzle pieces," she says before their first kiss.
"It won't be perfect, but it will be something," he says, trying to convince her not to leave him.
But the thing is, their neuroses don't seem to fit together like puzzle pieces. Despite admirable performances from the two actors in the show, Jeff Young and Kylie Jones, who deliver their lines with rapid-fire pacing, the love part of the love story seems mysteriously absent. The play focuses instead on its many miseries: fights over money, jealousy and disappointment with the hands life dealt, as well as miscommunications and their many fallouts. The warm and fuzzy isn't really the focus as much as the dramatic tension.
But Signal-to-Noise is engaging none the less, largely because of the story structure. Depicted as a time-fractured series of vignettes that constantly repeat and expand upon one and other, the story evolves from a 1,000-mile height, giving an overall impression of the relationship more than linear narrative. It feels as convoluted and self-serving as memory, and eventually devolves into the characters' meditations on perception versus reality, on self-deception and selfishness, and on that great eternal question: what is love?
Spoiler alert: In typical theater fashion, it answers none of these questions, just deposits them into the audience's heads to be pondered.
While not perfect, the production, the first from the newly launched Green Zoo Arts Collective, a collaborative project of Newby's band The Green Zoo, is more than just a strong debut. It's an unusual and compelling piece that shows the next generation of Boise creatives beginning to carve out their own niche, and is well worth the low price of admission.
Signal-to-Noise will be performed Friday, Jan. 25-Saturday, Jan. 26, and Friday, Feb. 1-Saturday, Feb. 2, at The Water Cooler, 1405 W Idaho St., Boise. The show starts at 8 p.m. and costs $6.50 at the door.