Renee Schilling was stuck in an elevator with a painfully unhappy couple. Their phones dinged as they sparred; texts stinging behind thinly veiled nonchalance. She was trapped with 10 floors to go.
The uncomfortable encounter inspired the playwright to pen Doug is a D-Bag, an interactive comedy that examines how technology affects our relationships. Running Nov. 29-Dec. 14, the Cleveland Public Theatre show breaks etiquette by encouraging audience members to turn on their cellphones while they witness a nasty breakup between Doug and Lorie.
As co-workers at a human resources firm, their squabbles are mostly confined to texts. "There is this danger of your cellphone," Schilling says. "There's no take backs."
The seemingly trivial communication of a text can mean volumes, she says. "That woman in the elevator, her life must have been completely changed," says Schilling. "Not only temporarily, but the way she looked at a cellphone after that."
Much of the narration in Doug is a D-Bag occurs via text message, which the audience receives on their phones, revealing the real conversations behind Doug and Lorie's work-censored facade.
Audience participation is encouraged, including the option to text directly with the characters onstage and an offstage narrator who reveals details as the plot unfolds.
The actors respond to questions posed by audience members, so characters must be fully rounded out with seemingly simplistic details such as their favorite colors or knowledge of posters on the office's fictional walls. Schilling even encourages attendees to text each other. Yet, the plot can be understood without cellular enhancement.
Although our evolving ways of communicating are an underlying theme, Schilling hopes the play tackles a larger question about the nature of happiness.
"It's a story about finding what it is that you love," she says. "It might be a job, it might be another person and it might be your cellphone."