For my apres-work delectation, this evening I went to the theatre. To see ‘Redpill’ at Theatre Upstairs. Written by and starring Liam Hallahan, and directed by Paul Doran, it is a one man show, which tells the tale of an internet troll named Ben.
Ben is a college freshman (Hallahan is American – as indicated perhaps by his theatre company’s name, which is ‘Some Yank’s Theatre Company’).
His story begins as he is about to graduate from high school. Fairly innocent to the harsh realities of the world, Ben harbours a crush on a classmate in his history class. He prepares to ask her on a date. In that typical teenage boy style, he mentally rehearses his proposition. When he finally plucks up the courage to ask her out, he is crushed by her dismissal of him.
He retreats to his bedroom (a centuries old refuge for teenage boys), in the house he shares with his quinoa-loving single mother. He finds solace in dancing to the theme tune from his favourite Japanese anime TV show ‘Haruhi’.
Crushed by his inability to navigate the politics of late adolescent life, he makes an online friend of a girl named Helen on a Haruhi fan website. Their online friendship offers comfort, and together they write online, absurd fan fiction about TV shows. As it so happens Helen will be attending college with him. They develop a real life friendship.
The friendship blossoms and deepens. Could Helen be ‘the one’?
With impeccably bad timing he professes his love for her, immediately after she breaks up with her first boyfriend. Helen is less than impressed by his amorous intentions.
Devastated by his failure, he descends into the vortex of the internet, and online men’s rights activism – in particular a website called ‘Redpill’ – a site for bitter, angry men to congregate, and blame women for their shortcomings. The website takes its name from The Matrix, and the red pill Neo takes, which reveals the truth of the universe.
How will Ben achieve justice for himself? Can he address his inability to get a girlfriend? It won’t require much action. He has his keyboard, and his online community of thwarted, lonely, straight men offering their words of wisdom from their dirty bedsits.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable play and performance with a very modern premise – twenty years ago the possibility of using the anonymous internet to vent one’s hate, rage and frustration didn’t exist. Judging by the comments sections of internet forums and the news stories of revenge porn and cyber-stalking, it’s a scary new world we are living in.
Even though I was laughing at this angry, pathetic character, I was scared by how easy and arbitrary, character assassination and online vengeance can be. The internet is a tool for great good, but is available to everyone to use, in whatever way they see fit.
Hallahan is an extremely talented writer and actor, capturing the pain and loneliness of a mediocre modern male – lashing out at ball-busting women and their ludicrous demands for respect, autonomy and freedom. Men like Ben are of course ‘faggots’ – after all what could be more pathetic and tragic for an online alpha-male than to be gay?
The insult ‘faggot’ is spat out by Ben and the other characters portrayed, as the worst possible condition for a man. I tend to disagree. Then again I am an evolved, modern homo.
It’s an extremely funny play – I was cringing at the same time as I was laughing, from my front row seat.
It’s on at Theatre Upstairs until Saturday July 29th. Performance time is 7pm (with 1pm matinees on Wednesdays. Tickets are 12 euro.