“ASK AUNT SUSAN is a kind of satire of the early internet startups, where cultish celebrity self-help meets good old-fashioned American greed,” says Goodman Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence Seth Bockley of his social media comedy.
Loosely based on Nathanael West’s 1933 novella MISS LONELYHEARTS, Bockley’s play ASK SUSAN sets the story in today’s tech-obsessed world to humorously explore the dangers of anonymity on the web. The Chicago-based playwright, director, performer and 2009 Ofner Prize winner wrote the play in 2010, and continued to workshop it in 2011 and 2012 during the New Stages Festival.
ASK AUNT SUSAN is about a young writer and coder (Alex Stage) working for the budding internet industry When a run-in with Yelp.com gets him in trouble, his entrepreneurial boss (Marc Grapey) suggests he lay low and work as an online advisor under the name Aunt Susan for AskAuntSusan.com. The gig enables him to make some money but just as he can pay off his student loans. As he is ready to hang up his Aunt Susan bonnet, he is pulled back in by his avid online followers. As Aunt Susan’s internet reputation grows with his web of deceit, a computer—and human—breakdown can’t be far off.
Adding social media to its publicity blitz, Goodman Theatre coordinated a free online discussion entitled “Authentic Artifice and Crafting Identity Online” with social media leaders Dan Fietsam (@fietstweets; former creative director of BBDO and a current University of Chicago instructor in Creativity Branding and Technology), Shannon Downey (@shannondowney; owner of Pivotal Chicago) and Alex Mohr (@alexophile; formerly of Ketchum Inc.) earlier this week.
The play can be seen through June 22 in Goodman’s Owen Theatre on 170 N. Dearborn in Chicago.