Today’s Internet: Ugly, Funny, Us

Actors in “Lulz” perform as Internet trolls.

A concept musical that will challenge your use of social media websites, “Lulz” explores the intentions and consequences of Internet trolling.

The show removes the clean-cut image of Google and Facebook to show the grittier, darker face of the Internet in the intimate setting of the Calhoun Cabaret. Divided into two parts, the musical opens with a comical introduction to the minds of Internet trolls. But when trolls step away from their laptop screens in part two, “Lulz” tugs at your heartstrings. Brennan Caldwell ’12 and Sharif Youssef ’14 give emotional performances as trolls who use the Internet to escape their personal problems.

Ben Wexler ’12 brought playwright Cory Finley ’11 on to write the book for Wexler’s senior project. If you aren’t quite sure what “trolling” is, you’re not alone. But if you’ve ever been “Rick Rolled,” then you have fallen victim to their tactics, even if unknowingly.

Wexler and Finley focus on the more controversial types of trolling, such as RIP trolling. Most of the audience will probably know, or know of, someone whose passing sparked hundreds of posts to their Facebook profile. Finley describes RIP trolls as “showing them how silly and harmful their [Facebook mourners’] emotional ride on each other’s pain is” by posting irrelevant or insensitive comments. Many of those commenting have little to no connection with the diseased and trolls seek to expose the superficial and harmful side to this behavior.

The show does not, however, encourage the audience to accept a particular viewpoint. Instead, “Lulz” seems to explain the purpose of trolling by saying, “it’s complicated.” Trolling could be used as a joke among friends (i.e. Rainbow Wheel of Death), to promote a social agenda as with RIP trolling, or an escape from the realities of life. Youssef will hit a soft spot with audiences as a man who trolls to cope with his mother’s illness. But what happens when trolling goes too far?

The second half of the musical tackles the anonymity of the Internet and the public persona of trolling. When one troll takes his harassment offline, other trolls worry that the implications of one bad seed will ruin the Internet. Concrete rules for Internet conduct seem to be a troll’s worst nightmare. Caldwell portrays a pre-Facebook trolling purist whose battle with drug addiction is revealed as trolling gains a public profile. “Lulz” will leave you wondering why the Internet is losing its anonymity and what the consequences will be.

Ethan Heard ’06 DRA ’13 directs fast-paced but sometimes excessively short scenes to focus on each storyline. Narrative arcs for each character have been sacrificed to centralize the production’s focus on trolling. These short vignettes evoke emotion but fail to form connections with characters. This draws attention to the insensitivity of trolling, as Youssef’s trolling friends try to “lighten the mood.”

For a musical discussing the tech age and the Facebook generation, the production is relatively low-key. Projectors make use of the panoramic nature of the stage. The viral videos and Facebook chat employed by the production aren’t overpowering, but clever and entertaining. Adding more projections might have made the sparse set more memorable. Fortunately, the cast fills this void with a colorful, humored performance. Mark Sonnenblick ’12 will have audiences in stitches with his witty lyrical commentary. The musical’s message to audiences comes from one of his songs — “don’t be afraid to laugh,” even as the musical takes you somewhere dark in its depictions of trolling.

“Lulz” will run in the Calhoun Cabaret at 6:30 and 10 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday.

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