Mike is a globe-trotting father who leaves his daughter at home as he travels the world to explore the the social networks of the third world. Mike works for startup Xubu, and his job is to understand how these networks can be brought online, so the Xubu can somehow profit. While Mike travels, his daughter Sam can only connect to him through video chat. And Sam’s nanny, Deb, explores her new city, Minneapolis, and documents it through a video blog.
Mike and Sam initially have trouble having a real relationship through video chat, but eventually make a go of it. The technology doesn’t matter as much as the time they put into it. Mike realizes he needs to be proactive and not use the chat as a crutch, but rather put actual non-work time into the relationship with his daughter. It is interesting that the adults are the ones who seem to have the most trouble connecting via video. Yet Sam, who is only 11, becomes more than acclimated to seeing her father only through video. When he finally is going to be home, Sam is indifferent.
Meanwhile, J.V., Mike’s boss, becomes increasingly frustrated with Mike as he focuses less and less on his work for Xubu and more and more on his daughter. Mike is realizing that Xubu isn’t going to solve the world’s problems and J.V. isn’t happy to see Mike’s decreased enthusiasm.
The show’s attempts to ground itself to the visiting city were interesting, but verging on over the top. The main foil for this is Deb, who’s vlog journals her explorations of Minneapolis. Her jokes about the different flavors of Lutherans or the history of the river came off a bit forced, trying too hard to connect to the local audience. On the other hand, when Deb retells a visit to an ethnic grocery, it was more relevant to the main story line. I got the sense that it might actually be telling the audience something they hadn’t already heard. Again, when J.V. is talking with his friends via video chat, he mentions Sarah Palin’s appearance on SNL last week, touch of timely presence that helps to place the show and add a chuckle.
The show dazzles with technical proficiency. The set features a spectacular array of folding and un-folding screens, of all different sizes and locations. It is is a spectacle that works, being entirely relevant to the meaning of the show. When the screens first fold open, there is an initial “woah” factor, but after a while they almost become actors in themselves.
I am a fan of art that doesn’t beat around the bush with it’s intentions and message. When a work is direct and has a clear call to action, I am in love. But I also expect there to be a subtle and deeper weave of meaning behind the initial message. Continuous City certainly meets my criteria for being clear about it’s intentions, to an extent that is perhaps too much for someone who appreciates bluntness. It leaves no allusions about the paradox of an always connected wired world. We can use our connectedness for good or for bad. We should use it as a tool, but not a crutch. Virtual presence shouldn’t suffice for the real thing.
The plot executed this well, but there was an opportunity to explore the complexities of this a bit more. J.V. felt under-developed as a character. We got glimpses of his personal life and of his far flung friends, but delving into his personal life even more might have worked better to serve as a counterpoint or secondary plot-line to the main father-daughter plot.
Again, the father-daughter plot was so much more compelling, it left Xubu itself feeling a unintegrated. It served mainly as a tool to facilitate the father and J.V.’s interactions, and to try to connect the to the larger world. We caught glimpses of the Continuous City the title alludes to, but they were fleeting and interrupted.
Despite the flaws, I still appreciated the power of the work. Few artists come close to not only revealing, but reveling in the social implications of technology in our world. To work with it as fluidly as The Builders Association does is a feat to behold.