Stage and screen: reality TV and the death of emotion in ArtsWest’s The Dead Guy

Review of The Dead Guy by Jenny B., age 19

“Look at everyone in this country. They’re all desperate to feel something – really feel something. We see torture and murder – it’s kind of upsetting. We’re flat-lining,” Gina (played by Erica Bergman) proclaims persuasively in ArtsWest’s production of The Dead Guy. This is an astonishing story, in which playwright Erick Coble teaches us about life. The message is brought to life by director Rob West’s integration of theatre and television and Will Abrahamse’s set design, which captures even the most absent minded attendee’s attention. With almost everything being recorded, it begs an interesting question of the audience, which feeds into the message of the show: do you watch the screens or the actors?

Ray Tagavilla and Erica Bergman in The Dead Guy at ArtsWest. Photo by Matthew Durham.

This astonishing story teaches us about the pointlessness of reality television. It shows us how some people live through their televisions instead of experiencing things for themselves. The Dead Guy does this by taking reality TV to the extreme by putting a man’s life in the hands of the audience. The main character Eldon (played by Ray Tagavilla) has a week to live. In that week, through realizations from how he has treated others to how it is important to appreciate the small things in life, he teaches us about love and living life to the fullest.

By the end of the performance that I saw, the actors were energetic and convincing, but the beginning the show, for lack of a better word, was void of life. The lines were well delivered, but the conviction behind them was not. The lines delivered by Eldon were funny, but the absence of comedic timing didn’t lead the audience to laughter. About a fourth of the way into the show, though, the energy picked up and then everything started to click. Then, the audience followed and was moved to more than just laughter, but to deep feelings for the plight of this character. Maybe with proper warm-ups this would not happen in the future.

The play is surrounded by a charming atmosphere, from the integrated art that lines the walls (a Deborah Paine curated exhibit called Yer Killin’ Me) to the friendly box office crew and concession stand workers, who are helpful and understanding. This show is definitely worth attending just to experience the playwright’s message. This well-written piece that is great for everyone to reflect on their own situations and life. It gives us perspective on how we spend our time and what we value in life.

Jenny B.
April 5th, 2008

The Dead Guy
Through April 26th
ArtsWest’s Ticket Office: 206-938-0339

ArtsWest is located at 4711 California Ave SW in West Seattle. It's served by buses 22, 37, 51, 53, 54, 55, 57, 128, and 560. Bus times:

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