FRINGE 2021 CRITIC's PICK: YOLO

"YOLO" embraces the form and gives us a fully produced film with resonant music, editing and photography, much more than a recording of a play and perfect for a Fringe Festival. It’s amazing to watch.

click to enlarge Poster for "YOLO" - PHOTO: PROVIDED BY CINCY FRINGE
Photo: Provided by Cincy Fringe
Poster for "YOLO"

What a beautiful, funny, poignant play! Produced by Feel So Young Theater out of Minneapolis, YOLO embraces the form and gives us a fully produced film with resonant music, editing and photography, much more than a recording of a play and perfect for a Fringe Festival. It’s amazing to watch.

YOLO (“You Only Live Once” in today’s social media language) is a fable of sorts and tells a simple, unadorned story that speaks to love and aging and technology and relationships and probably dozens of other inherent things. We meet an “older” couple, Don (Luverne Seifert) and Myrna (Joy Dolo), through a beautiful opening sequence, which shows us their lives in familiar and comfortable rhythms, from getting up in the morning to taking their pills to a ritual walk to the park to read the Sunday New York Times. It’s meticulously choreographed to music, not to heighten it, but instead to show those rhythms in their life together. They share a regular phone call with their daughter, still learning to use the speaker function on an old touch-tone phone. Both actors play the age and relationship with tremendous confidence, and we learn everything we need to know about them: They’re completely happy and content together in the structure of their world.

Then unexpectedly, they receive a gift from their daughter: an Amazon Alexa. They’re puzzled and dismissive of it at first, expecting to consign it to the closet with that “Clap On, Clap Off” thing they got once. But we jump ahead to a point where Don has embraced Alexa to the extent that it’s a regular part of his world. We see that his world now includes computers and Zoom and smartphones and texting and even a Zoomba.

Myrna, not so much. She sees these things not as some great addition to their lives, but as disruptions and worse — competition for Don. We see it too, completely clearly. Suddenly the life that the play so lovingly depicted at the beginning has been ruined, perhaps irreparably.  Eventually, Don sees what’s happening and tries to make amends. The play resolves with an unexpectedly moving scene, ironically where old technology serves a genuine purpose beyond tricks and silly distractions. 

The actors are marvelous together, and each play some supporting characters on Zoom and IT service calls (using some really funny low-tech cardboard scenery). It’s a mixed-race couple, which really has nothing to do with the play or how the characters are portrayed, a great example really of how color-blind casting at its best can function.

What’s startling about this play is that it’s not symbolic or metaphorical at all. Instead, it’s a slice-of-life of today’s world that asks an important question about where technology fits or should fit. At the end, it asks what it means to be happy and what relationships are all about. And it reminds us that technology can be useful or not — but that it’s always limited.

I could go on and on, but you should watch this one. It’s really beautiful.

The Cincinnati Fringe Festival takes place June 4-19. For more information, show descriptions, a schedule and tickets, visit cincyfringe.com.

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