You’ll never think of crime the same way again once you see “Teh Internet Is Serious Business" at 12th Avenue Arts.
#1 Spoiler alert! This review contains offensive material. If you, or anyone you love, has never visited the internet or heard about how people talk there, please slam your laptop shut now or hurl your newspaper out of the window (or, hell, chuck your laptop out the window) and register your displeasure with The Seattle Times’ complaint team: email@example.com. (See what I did there? You can’t complain about the internet without being on the internet!) Regardless, God be with you. Because (expletive)’s about to get real.
#2 A history lesson that will change your life! Circa 2011, a pack of brilliant — and sometimes emotionally stunted — computer nerds met on the internet and forged soon-to-be-infamous hacking collectives LulzSec and Anonymous. Some were teenagers, some were soldiers, some are still unknown. At first, the merry pranksters were just hyper-intelligent, bored kids jerking around with code and casually cruel, adolescent humor. People who argued against Facebook-bombing the page of a recently dead woman were labeled with an anti-gay epithet and sneered at as finger-wagging, political-minded types who would sacrifice the lulz for a sense of justice and decency.
‘Teh Internet Is Serious Business
Through Oct. 2, Washington Enemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $15-$25 (washingtonensemble.org).
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#3You’ll never guess what this play is actually about! This season, Washington Ensemble Theatre chose the theme “toxic masculinity.” “Teh Internet” director Wayne Rawley said WET artistic director Samie Spring Detzer specifically wanted a white, cis-gendered, straight man to direct the play — about a pack of teenage cybercriminals tangled up in their own homophobic/misogynistic language but driven to a mission of social justice. When Rawley first read “Teh Internet,” he said, “I kept thinking ‘I know this voice, I know this voice.’ I realized it was the voice at the back of the school bus — when you’re that young and you don’t have any idea about your body or your sexuality so everything bad was ‘gay.’ ” Ultimately, he said, the play poses a philosophical question for everyone with an online life: “Is a troll good or bad, or are the trolls bad only when they say something you don’t like?”
#4You can stage the internet in meatspace! “Teh Internet,” by Welsh playwright Tim Price, dramatizes a digital movement that temporarily hamstrung corporations and corrupt governments — and offers no stage directions. “None! Zero!” Rawley nearly shouted in a phone interview. Lines by Anonymous could be spoken by a single actor or a horde. The internet could be represented by a complex set or a bare stage. So Rawley, along with choreographer Alyza DelPan-Monley and designer Tristan Roberson, found a gorgeously elegant solution. The main floor is empty except for a surprising, “Tron”-like light grid that flashes, goes dark and changes color as the action progresses. A loft-stage above hosts a pile of brown cardboard boxes that actors toss around and turn into chairs, consoles, or packets of data (felled by LulzSec’s attacks on servers, as dozens of onstage hackers shoot at them with rubber dart guns) as necessary.
#5 Did you know you can dance code? Rawley’s staging is a thrillingly kinetic, hard-to-keep-track-of mashup with 14 actors. The modular set veers between game show, spy thriller and barren apartment. Ever get sucked down a Facebook/Twitter/porn/shopping/kitten/nostalgia/whatever hole and come to your senses a couple of hours later feeling exhausted and strangely refreshed? You know what I’m talking about. Yeah, “Teh Internet” is that good. Perhaps its greatest achievement is the physicalization of code. Heard of a DDoS — or “distributed denial of service” — attack but don’t know what it is? Choreographer DelPan-Monley gives us a visual crash course: 20 people trying to fit through the revolving-door of a server simultaneously, freezing it shut. She pulls a similar trick with code: “forward slash forward slash, angle bracket, quotation, command, dialogue, angle bracket, semicolon” become intricate, precise hand gestures under a spotlight. She teaches code via movement.
#6 It’s not right, but it’s legal — and vice versa! “Teh Internet” opens with the lights going dark and the floor grid flashing red to a digitized cackle. Two authoritarian-looking people start barking about “criminal use of computers” and “890 years in jail,” then begin glitching their lines. They’ve been hacked, reduced to saying “organized, reorganized, schmorganized orgasmized crabible coputz zeuse.” Cut to a depressed-looking, shaggy-haired kid in the tough town of Yell, Scotland, being told by his mom that the family is getting evicted. The kid looks incredulous. Mom says: “There’s nothing we can do about it — it’s not right, but it’s legal.” In a few years, the kid will become a hacker “troll king” with the handle “Topiary.” In one of his more infamous stunts, dramatized in the play, he hacks a website of the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in real time during an interview with one of its members. “You say the internet was invented just for the Westboro Baptist Church to get its message across?” Topiary asks archly. “Then how come God allowed gay dating websites?’ ” While the Westboro spokesperson rolls out some pablum about “filth,” Topiary and company hack the church’s servers to leave a message, then announce the stunt as soon as the spokesperson stops talking.
#7 Tom Cruise can’t take a joke! Some of the internet nerds first crystallize their sense of moral indignation after hacking a video of Tom Cruise talking about Scientology. Their videos keep getting yanked (this actually happened). The actors sputter with anger. “They’re trying to censor the internet!” one of them shouts. Another wails: “They’re trying to (expletive) with our lulz!” This moment is key to understanding the real-life phenomenon and the play itself: The in-group internet horde begins to develop a self-conscious sense of justice for others — paired with a righteous rage that anyone would deign to insult them by ruining their fun.
#8 Millennials say the darndest things! Emboldened by their success — in the play and in real life — members of LulzSec, and then another cell called Anonymous, started hitting bigger targets with their technical skill and moral outrage: Fox News, repressive Middle Eastern governments, banks. Their slogan: “Laughing at your security since 2011!” Those Guy Fawkes masks you might remember from the Occupy protests? That was Anonymous.
#9 There’s too much good stuff about this play to write about! “Teh Internet” is packed with great performances and great moments — too many to recount here — you’ll have to see the work to fully appreciate it. One particularly thrilling/haunting moment: a dance number to Fall Out Boy’s “Centuries” (“just one mistake/is all it will take/we’ll go down in history/remember me for centuries”) by the whole cast in zipped-up hoodies while the floor flashes beneath them. You’re in a dance club, you’re on the internet, you’re hiding from the cops in a tear-gassed alleyway during Occupy Wall Street — you’re in a theater.
#10 J/K n00b! That headline was clickbait. “The last one” will never blow your mind. (But if it ever does, your next-of-kin should call the authorities immediately.)