The virtual family, the first play published by Jeremy Johnson, explores the intricacies of a world so dependent on technology. Posted in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, this piece is humorous and utterly relatable. Until July 5, the public can enjoy a production of The virtual family virtually. Directed by Gina Wagner, this TAFE (Theater Arts for All) production features a talented cast and crew aged 10 to 77! The virtual family is a series of skits that can be interpreted as a complete show. It tells the story of a family – mom, dad, grandmother, son, daughter, cat and kitten – examining their relationships with each other and with technology.
The first scene is one of the most hilarious. In this scene, Mom, played by Jennifer DiMercurio, interacts with AALIX, played by Sofia DiMercurio. AALIX is an artificial intelligence, like Alexa, which can search for information, play music, etc. Sofia DiMercurio maintains a perfectly flat effect, showing no emotion on her face or robotic voice, which is no small feat! Hilarity ensues as mom, in search of a turkey meatball recipe, talks to AALIX like she’s a real person and AALIX still doesn’t understand mom’s orders. Jennifer DiMercurio uses her facial expressions and vocal tone to display the frustrations we all experience with technology that doesn’t always work the way we think it does. It’s a brilliant scene that’s nice to watch in the hands of the DiMercurios.
As the play progresses, we meet Dad (Montez Ritter), Grandma (Priscilla McFerren), Son (Kalil Nasrani), Daughter (Talia Lamb), Cat (Rosie Gray), and Kitten (Anne Gray). Ritter delivers all of his “daddy jokes” with excellent comedic timing. He particularly shines in his scene with Toothbrush, performed by Haven Simmons. Yes, that’s right, Toothbrush. Dad gets an app that allows him to interrogate electric toothbrushes to replace the broken one. Simmons shows off his acting skills as his character takes on three different characters in an attempt to get Dad to make a purchase.
McFerren portrays Grandma, who does quite well with technology, but sometimes needs the help of her grandchildren. McFerren highlights Grandma’s enthusiasm for Pinterest in such a way that it’s contagious, and audiences will certainly understand her confusion over the complexities of technology. Nasrani’s son is so realistic in his extreme irritation at being the tech guru for his family that parents and grandparents watching him will be willing to punish him on the spot.
The girl is one of the more complex characters, as she talks about her feelings about virtual school and being isolated from her friends. Lamb gives a wonderfully nuanced performance, making Daughter one of the most relevant characters on the show. One of Daughter’s funniest scenes is her disastrous workout with mom and Fab. Fab, played by Crystal Ganong, is a virtual exercise program. Ganong infuses the character with great energy and his daughter’s reactions when Fab berates her for her looseness are hilarious.
Rosie and Anne Gray represent the family’s pets: the cat and the kitten. Between their costumes and their feline ways (like licking their paws), it’s easy to think of them as cats. Cat has a wonderful scene with Bobert. Bobert is a cleaning robot, similar to Roomba. When Cat worries about whether Bobert might be trying to get his tail, her expression is just endearing. Matt Bahn plays the role of Bobert. Bahn does a great job describing the full spectrum of Bobert’s personality – from excited and happy to serve to overwhelmed, overworked and in need of maintenance.
Throughout the performance, the actors bring out the complex relationship between people and technology – our dependence on it, our frustrations with it, and our need at times to separate ourselves from it. This family-friendly show will make the audience laugh in their own living room. Visit www.tafepa.org to get tickets to this production online as well as information on upcoming auditions and performances for their return to the shows in person.