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From Dear Abby to Hey, Frank

January 25th, 2015

Post Secret: The Show
Created by Frank Warren, thumb TJ Dawe, rx Kahlil Ashantik and Justin Sudds
Firehall Arts Centre
Jan. 20-Feb. 7

[At right: Kahlil Ashantik, Nicollle Nattrass, Ming Hudson, Mario Vaira]

Post Secret: The Show regurgitates material from a website called Post Secret, a forum for people who choose to share their secrets with strangers.

Material from this website has been presented in several bestselling books, so this is a third generation offshoot.

Lacking originality in terms of both content and presentation, Post Secret is therefore more like an advertisement for that website than a theatrical experience.

There is no story arc whatsoever. No characters. Just the recitation of secrets, along with some emailed responses to those revelations (Please don’t jump, etc.)

The postcard-like messages from that popular website—created by Frank Warren of Germantown, Maryland, with a visitor count that reportedly exceeds 702 million—are mostly shown on a large screen above the stage; others are recited by three actors. The screen is dominant.

It would be uncharitable to view Post Secret: The Show as merely a refried menu of clickable items made into an alternate smorgasbord specifically for people who like to gaze into screens, large and small, all day long. A show for people who like to skip over the surface of things, never go deep. A show for people with short attention spans.

But the thought occurs.

For anyone who is taken aback by talking heads on newscasts who recite text that is already displayed on the screen at a retarded pace for dummies, Post Secret can be similarly frustrating. We read a pithy confession on the screen in two seconds; then we wait for one of the actors to tell us what it says for five or ten seconds… Again and again and again.

A large and friendly-looking guitarist (Mario Vaira) noodles away, seated on a chair, with space-filling meanderings that fall to obviate this production’s complete absence of aesthetics. There is no inventive staging. We admire and respect director TJ Dawe for having created some superb one-man shows; he should keep doing that.

This presentation is laudable for attracting people into a theatre who do not normally attend the theatre. We hope the theatre makes money. Beyond that, it’s a litany of treacle. Some tidbits are funny, some are touching, a few are shocking. Almost all will be forgotten as quickly as one forgot corny jokes in Double Bubble wrappers as a kid. There is no drama, no personalization.

Post Secret stands out, however, as a rare show before which nobody requests the audience to turn off their cel phones. On a Saturday evening, somebody tweeted that the guitarist on stage seemed cute. Or hunky. Or something like that. Whereupon somebody else in the audience tweeted back, hey, just so know, his Significant Other is in the audience. Lucky us. We got to read this exciting commentary on the big screen. Cuz it’s live. Cuz it’s interactive. You get to contribute your own twaddle.

And, yes, Virginia, you can share a secret. Just as the Huffington Post has become a powerful media outlet by getting people to supply free content, the Post Secret website has become a valuable internet commodity by relying on people to do all the writing for it, for free.

The overall, reassuring message we all get in return is that You Are Not Alone. This is not far removed from We Are The World, We Are The People. Or that Coke commercial, I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing In Perfect Harmony. It feels like we’re all part of one big franchise, like Chicken Soup for the Soul.

It’s not far removed from religious programming. This show is meant to be good for you. Fair enough. Post Secret could be ideally presented to a high school retreat for grade twelve students. These three well-meaning actors, obliged to serve us tidbits with uniformly earnest deliveries, have all the emotional oomph of camp counsellors. Clearly they weren’t directed to do otherwise. They are puppets in a long commercial for a website.

At intermission, you can be certain the second portion will be the same as the first.

We used to have Dear Abby. Now we have Hey, Frank.

– Paul Durras

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