One of the criticisms of our media age is how it can isolate us as much as connect us. We're like voyeurs, watching others' problems on reality TV from afar. On Facebook and Twitter, we communicate in pithy phrases or even one word — "like" — instead of through heartfelt conversation.
So it's fitting that an air of detachment hangs over "Media," a new musical from Tod Kimbro and Jeff Forte. The characters have suffered great emotional traumas: one couple desperate to have a child, another couple whose child has been kidnapped.
Yet only Adam McCabe's artist character, who has been unjustly accused of a crime, inspires much empathy. That's partly because McCabe is in fine voice and with his nervous energy, flitting about the stage, seems damaged and fragile.
But it's also because the story's other characters aren't particularly likable. The couple unable to conceive has committed a horrible crime. The couple searching for their missing child bickers and shouts.
Mira Strauss, as a young girl, is the show's most sympathetic character — and perhaps its smartest, as well.
Quirky personas are a Kimbro specialty, but you might find yourself missing characters who are easier to root for, such as the misfits from his Fringe Festival hit "Suckers."
Kimbro has cleverly structured "Media." The first act lays out the three storylines: An artist is keeping his past a secret from his boyfriend, a couple is hiding something from their daughter, and a child abduction has torn apart the marriage of reality-TV stars. It very quickly — a bit too quickly, really — becomes apparent how the three stories fit together, and the second act flashes back to the pivotal day of the kidnapping before a short third act wraps everything up.
Director John DiDonna, who also performs, keeps the pacing brisk and in a visually satisfying way keeps characters not participating in a particular scene onstage, as if to emphasize the connection between them all.
The high-tech nature of that connection also is evident through slick, attractive video-image backdrops (created by actor McCabe and Seth Kubersky), as well as prominent use of YouTube in the story: 12-year-old Chelsea (Strauss), kept isolated by her parents, uses the popular video-sharing site to reach out to the world — and the plot hinges on that fact.
The electronica-pop music is country-tinged for the Southern reality-TV stars (a blustery DiDonna and fiery Melissa Mason), but the best numbers go to Elizabeth Dean as a desperate mother with a secret. She sings about being a "Warrior Queen" with a sincerity that goes a long way to explaining her character's despicable actions.
Her husband's character is underwritten, though, leaving Chris Prueitt at a loss to convey the complicated emotions he surely must be feeling.
Maybe this is theater for a new age: Watching other people emote without having to feel their pain, comfortable in our distance, sitting alone in the dark.
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See for yourself
•What: 'Media,' a new dramatic musical from Empty Spaces Theatre Co. and Tod Kimbro
•When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and Monday, June 27; 2 p.m. Sundays; through June 27
•Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
•Cost: $20; $15 students and seniors