I’m a sucker for old new media. I could spend hours researching about the early Internet in the ’70s and ’80s. I still have software that I was using in the ’90s, and I collect vintage footage in my free time. I’m also a sucker for anything The Wizard of Oz-themed, so when I saw the Philly Fringe listing for OZ.ORG, I thought it was something I had to see.
The Yellow Brick Wall
The Fringe entry from Virtually Possible Theatre Company and playwright Amber Kusching stars Megan Nutt as Dorothee and Melynda Morrone as the Wicked Glitch. It’s billed as an interactive, “dystopian, futuristic, and technological spin on the beloved children’s classic.” After receiving a laptop that transports her to Oz.org, Dorothee discovers that Munchkinland is caught in the “Yellow Brick Wall” (get it? Like a firewall?) and malware threatens to delete all of this digital land. She’ll have to help them out before she can return home.
The confluence of disparate ideas could’ve been a marvelous convergence, especially on the heels of the already-fatigued Zoom era. What OZ.ORG ends up being is too familiar and predictable in a form factor that, how we say on the Internet, lags real hard.
The creative decisions made here feel uneven and lack utility. Half of it feels like it wants to lean into the camp with its costuming and performances, the rest of it is taking it seriously in the wrong way. For instance, this play’s rendition of the Tin Man relies on a robot voice that, in 2020, is archaic and disrupts the tone. Sure, he’s a robot, but does Siri or Google Assistant sound this way? I’ve got Issa Rae taking commands on my phone and she sounds natural to me. What prompted this choice and other choices like it in the show? In what era of the Internet does OZ.ORG take place?
It’s difficult to have a performance on Zoom coalesce as well as in-person theater, which is fine and can be forgiven. But the nature of it slows the interaction of the characters down—only one person speaks at a time, lulling the show into a series of talking heads. This becomes a further problem since we know how this story ends—it is The Wizard of Oz re-imagined with futuristic sci-fi overtones after all. OZ.ORG is not short on the number of characters, either, which pulls at the pacing. The interactive elements of the play feel unnecessary, since we end up exploring all the options anyway.
It’s tough outside the theater
OZ.ORG is woven with good ideas bound by limitations that could have begat creativity. What could’ve been this campy, vaporwave-y interpretation of The Wizard of Oz falls flat, compressing theater into a medium that isn’t theater-friendly. Its re-imagining leans on tropes, swapping names, characters, and ideas for their techno-counterparts but not executing on ideas that challenge the story in a new, contemporary way. Some of the art direction, like the backgrounds and the environments for live-action, match well; the performances, character development, and costumes do not, leaving me grasping for fluidity.
It’s hard doing theater outside of the theater, no doubt. OZ.ORG is an ambitious swing that can’t quite integrate all of its clever modifications.
Image Description: A green outline of the Emerald City on a navy background is next to the words “OZ.ORG” and “There’s no place like the homepage.”
What, When, Where
OZ.ORG. Written and directed by Amber Kusching. Virtually Possible Theatre Company. Through September 20, 2020, part of the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Find more info here.
The show contains voluntary audience interaction, which utilizes chat and/or webcam participation. It contains mentions of systemic oppression, addiction, and substance abuse.