One of my favourite things that a show that can possibly do is to put two seemingly random concepts together to create a surprising and remarkable synthesis, and …like nobody’s watching accomplishes this magnificently.
In this case the two elements are “isolation films” such as Castaway, 127 Hours, and Gravity, and the distinctive monologue style of the late Spalding Gray (you can find clips of his best-known work, Swimming to Cambodia, on YouTube). The result is an unexpectedly thoughtful rumination on loneliness and our ability to isolate ourselves even when we’re surrounded by people.
Performer Jake Simonds finds himself on a desert island with only a basketball that he’s dubbed ‘Spalding’ for company; in between attempts at making fire a là Tom Hanks in Castaway, Simonds obsessively critiques the film and its ilk while trying to convince ‘Spalding’ to re-enact certain scenes from these movies. There isn’t much of a plot in the traditional dramatic sense, but that’s not the point – the scenes on the island are broken up by Simonds listing everyday social situations in which someone might feel alone (“realizing you’re more sober than everyone you’re drinking with,” for example), at which point he gathers up the cord that defines the boundaries of the island to make his own world smaller as he continues to fixate on his own loneliness. His loneliness only compounds as ‘Spalding’ unfavourably compares Simonds’ artistic attempts at monloguing (which is after all being alone onstage) to his own works (such as StC).
There were a few technical hiccups with ‘Spalding’’s pre-recorded lines and a video projector operated by Simonds onstage, but these are easily resolved issues not unfamiliar to Fringe openings.
Part of what makes …like nobody’s watching so successful as a thought experiment is the lack of definitive answers to the rather nebulous questions it asks even though Simonds does throw out some possible answers. Why are people so fascinated with these survivalist stories, when modern society is rendering basic wilderness survival skills less and less useful? Is the inconvenience of dealing with other people in day-to-day life actually the thing that saves us all from going crazy? Nobody deals with loneliness in quite the same way, and the lack of certainty is truer because of that. If you’re a solitary kind of person or you enjoy theatre that makes you first examine the art and then your own perspective, then go see this show.
…like nobody’s watching
Written and Performed by Jake Simonds
At La Nouvelle Scène, Studio A (Venue 6)