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The Residents of Craigslist
Created by Will Bonfliglio and Lucy Cashion from posts on Craigslist
Directed by Lucy Cashion
ERA
November 12, 2014

Ryan Wiechmann, WIll Bonfigliio, Elli Schwetye, Cara Barresi Natasha Toro, Mitch Eagles Photo by Katrin Hackenberg ERA

Ryan Wiechmann, WIll Bonfigliio, Elli Schwetye, Cara Barresi Natasha Toro, Mitch Eagles
Photo by Katrin Hackenberg
ERA

I love experimental theatre. Exploring different forms and formats for theatre can produce some of the most intriguing presentations, and shed light on surprising aspects of the human experience. There are so many possibilities in terms of what can be made into a play. New theatre company ERA already impressed me earlier this year with their Shakespeare re-imagining Make Hamlet, and they’re back with an innovative, occasionally shocking, and always entertaining “found text” play constructed entirely out of posts from one of the internet’s more infamous websites, Craigslist.  ERA’s artistic director Lucy Cashion has teamed with actor Will Bonfiglio to assemble this collection of dramatized online postings that reveals a lot not just about the people who wrote the posts, but about all the “residents of Craigslist”, forming a microcosm of humankind in its various forms of expressions, from the innocuous to the crass and crude, from the pointless to the poignant.

This play has no real plot to speak of, being fashioned from a wide variety of posts on the St. Louis iteration of the Craigslist website.  Bonfiglio and five other performers (Cara Barresi, Mitch Eagles, Ellie Schwetye, Natasha Toro, and Ryan Weichmann) assemble on a creatively decorated stage, designed by Cashion and representing something of a Craigslist “community”.  With a mailbox, lawn chairs, a trash can, a cooler, and various other accessories gathered on an artificial turf surface and surrounded by a white picket fence.  Here, the various “residents” take turns telling their tales–reciting ads for usual and unusual products such as live animals, old furniture, and miscellaneous junk for sale or for giveaway.  Craigslist, however, is not just about merchandise ads, and the show is structured to reflect the various aspects of the site, from the ads to the discussion forums, to “rants and raves”, to raunchier content and requests for anonymous hookups, and to the “missed connections” in which various people hope (perhaps in vain) to find people they’ve encountered in various ways and reunite.  These are perhaps the most emotionally revealing of the segments, ranging from humorous to angry to downright creepy, to surprisingly poignant.  Backed by a soundtrack of catchy music, the segments are cleverly staged in various forms, from group chants, to a laid back chat session for message board discussions about ghosts and the cast of The Partridge Family, to military-style marching, to old-time church-styled preaching.  With material that is at turns lighthearted, humorous, pathetic, gritty, and shocking, this format provides an excellent showcase for the small and well-chosen ensemble of actors.

Each performer gets moments to shine.  Bonfiglio is memorable in various roles from an upbeat young man who likes to cross-dress and is looking for shopping buddies, to a lonely telemarketer searching for the woman behind the kind voice he can’t forget in a poignant monologue that also contains what is perhaps the play’s single funniest line. Weichmann makes a memorable impression as an aging party-guy looking for a new owner for his “disco table” and a geeky out-of-shape guy who has embarked on a new adventure of healthy living, and jogs around the stage expounding on his hopes and dreams.  There are also great moments from Eagles as a somewhat bitter man presenting a litany of his unlucky romantic pursuits, Schwetye in various roles from the opinionated seller of an uncomfortable antique chair to a fed-up Christian lamenting about the online rants of “horrible atheists”, Toro in rants about the how-to’s of grammar and posting certain types of explicit photos, and Barresi in a memorable, angry segment as a rejected “other woman” writing to the married father of her newborn son.  There is also a great deal of collaboration, with the actors working together extremely well, with seemingly boundless energy and a great deal of ensemble chemistry.

From comedy to despair, optimism to anger, this ensemble manages to bring the “world” of Craigslist to crazy, chaotic life. ERA has taken a risk that has paid off in an undeniably entertaining, off-the-wall piece, and the most “negative” thing I can say about it is that I wish it were running longer. As I publish this, there’s only one more chance left to see this outrageously innovative show.  If you get a chance to meet The Residents of Craigslist, you really should.

Natasha Toro, Ellie Schwetye, Mitch Eagles, Ryan Wiechmann Photo by Katrin Hackenberg ERA

Natasha Toro, Ellie Schwetye, Mitch Eagles, Ryan Wiechmann
Photo by Katrin Hackenberg
ERA

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