Taking a refreshingly different approach to theater, the cast of CLICKBAIT’s encourages audience members to please turn their cell phones ON and enjoy the show. Through video-projected chat rooms, viewers can comment on the action. It’s a fitting framing device for a story about the role the internet play in our lives, and the wired generation’s struggle to separate the truly valuable from the merely glittery and popular.

As a little girl Antonia Dargis (Esther Ko), uses her computer as a sanctuary. Adopting a false identity, she creates a secret world in which she can be a princess and express her inner desires and thoughts. Flash forward to today, when Antonia is a depressed college student troubled by thoughts of self-loathing and a crush on fellow student Inez (Liana Wendy Sarapas). When Antonia posts a moody comment on a social media site, the other students misinterpret her intentions. Rumors spread and suddenly Antonia, who no one can remember meeting, is believed to have committed suicide. Soon the campus in ablaze with activity. Sandy (Macy Idzakovich), fundraiser for suicide awareness. Not to be outdone, Andrew (Robert Snyder) and Carl (Michael Citrin) form their own ad hoc, male-centered charity. Ricardo (Gamal Elsawah), editor of the school newspaper, cares only that he has a great story on his hands. But ace reporter, Kayla (Sajda Waite) raises ethical concerns as new information begins to surface. An adult voice might be a welcome intrusion, but professor Grainey (Louis Gaudio) isn’t the one to provide it. Not only does he hate his job. He has also had an affair with Inez and left compromising photos in her possession. Far from the safe place of Antonia’s childhood, the internet now seems like a threat to societal sanity. Truths are obscured while falsehoods harden into accepted fact. The more “connected” we are, the less we understand each other. Determined to work her way out of the labyrinth of falsehoods, Antonia stumbles her way toward a more truthful existence.

CLICKBAIT’s first act is both farcical and touching in its examination of a world in which a person can have innumerable online “friends” and yet still feel fatally alone. The second act is not as strong, as there are far too many beats in which the actors are directed to scream hysterically in a way that doesn’t seem motivated by the script. Co-directors/writers Ko and David M. Deleon should trust their dialogue, and their delightful cast, to hold the audience’s attention without excess histrionics. Even so, the show’s timely message and startling lyricism
make it a welcome addition to the growing body of commentary on the dark side of the Information Age.

CLICKBAIT continues through September 14 at the Access Theater 380 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets: