The hallway you use to enter On the Boards' downstairs theater, where Sarah Rudinoff's NowNowNow will run for the next two (!) weekends, is lined with paintings by Jodi Brown of iPhone selfies of Rudinoff. If you're running late and want to get a drink real quick but also want to avoid that one person and end up making a beeline for your seat, you might miss them. But when you go to this show, and you should, be sure to walk slowly through that hallway and give them a look.
The paintings quietly announce one of the main anxieties that drive Rudinoff's show: legitimacy. The Self-Portrait is now the selfie. The Landscape is now the self-congratulatory summit pic. The bowl of fruit is the pricey brunch pic. The power of making a painting of an iPhone selfie lies in the pathos of an older form of self-expression seeking legitimacy (by way of relevance) from a younger form of self-expression, and at the same time showing how much more skill and thought and compassion it takes to paint a picture than to feel a *feeling* and snap a corresponding selfie. It's the sadness of radio interviewing the video star.
This artistic quandary points to an existential one: How does a self find a sense of legitimacy in a world where social media has—by simultaneously inflating and democratizing the ego—so diminished the self?
Instead of painting, the old art that Rudinoff practices is—to the delight of us all—performance. Like Dante, Rudinoff's autobiographical character has found herself in the middle of her journey of her life, lost in a dark wood of self expression. Performance is her escape route, but in a forest where Twitter, Facebook, et al have reduced performances of selves to an endless reel of Kelvin-filtered $30 small plates and vacay pics to South America, she isn't feeling too good about the value of her training and her work.
At one point in the show, Rudinoff imagines a Facebook 2, a place where some algorithm would take even the unfortunate facts of your life—the stubbed toe, the weird lunches, the false thought, the QFC receipts—and spit them up on your wall. This dream is exactly what Rudinoff presents in her show. She stands onstage with her iPhone (the screen of which she projects on the wall behind her), showing us her meditation podcasts, her Spotify playlists, and her increasing sense that the joys of the imaginative life pale in comparison to the quotidian onslaught of lonelinesses, shames, and overbearing mothers.
Throughout the show, which is structured sort of like an artful stand-up set governed by YouTube rabbit hole logic and associative leaping, she confesses her shallow thoughts (e.g. she sometimes looks at her own Facebook profile as if she were someone else to determine whether she'd like herself), interrupts her attempts at meditation by trying to search for the best meditation music, and runs around the stage taking expert selfies.
Her language, the sharpness and speed of her thought, her comedic timing, the strength of her one-liners, and her absurd pantomiming are all the evidence you need that Rudinoff's brilliance should be tweeted and retweeted unto eternity. Let me give you just one flower from that field. At one point she coyly wonders why you can gain weight if you eat a whole box cookies in one sitting, but not if you stretch out the cookie-eating over the course of several weeks. Her answer wraps a deep truth in a funny package: "You can fuck with time, but not with the cookies," she says, "the cookies are real." Her performance of perfunctory performance ends up being so moving that she reminds you—as the paintings of selfies in the hallway do—how much skill, thought, and compassion goes into creating a performance.
Does this show sound like a woe-is-me/pat-on-the-back thing that's all about how essential art is to our happiness but how endlessly seductive social media is? I can't help thinking, at times, that it is. Her character seems so obsessed with trying to use monetary value to measure things that can be monetized but are essentially priceless. "My parents paid $100,000 so that I could do this," she says, before launching into a brilliantly executed Shakespeare monologue. She confesses to having paid a relatively large sum of money for a mantra, or, as she puts it: "$1,500 for two syllables." She seems to hate the fact that she's not more famous and happy, despite her efforts to achieve both states. But...who isn't? If such a person exists, they probably don't have a Facebook page.