A white clad figure with matted Afro and thick white-framed sunglasses emerges from behind the triptych screen where fast-moving video projections tell much of the story. He is Pratik Motwani, the creator and solo live performer in #<EMBEDDED>#. His improbable physique angles are accented by his costume— first of many—and remind at once of both a Gumby cartoon character come to life and the iconic Psychology Today magazine cover of the young African-American dressed in white and lost in a white room. You are already so immersed in his fast-moving patter about virtual reality that for at least a millisecond you too might blink wondering if this character is real or projected.
His onstage persona is the virtual avatar of the goofy toothed character we see on the screen. With wig and protruding teeth smiles, we hear his many longing phone calls with “Mommy” back home—presumably in India. Then again, "mommy" could also be the motherboard that rewards his musings about the non-events of his day in his faster-than-the-speed of lights or bytes monologue. As the story unfolds we get to read his emails to her and watch him edit, edit and edit again as his person becomes more and more the virtual persona. As he holds our hand and takes us up and down the rat maze again and again to a higher level of virtual integration where his social image crowds out his corporeal one, we watch the dancing avatar get jolted with electricity, akin to rats in the classic Skinner Box experiment. More precisely, we are watching the brain on social media, getting jazzed and twitching with electrified rat moves as LIKES and such accrue.
The script- which this writer is tempted more to describe as a libretto because the emotional wallop is more akin to opera—renders every other artistic rant about social media seem relative garden variety ho-hum. Is there any better word for Motwani than BRILLIANT???!!! At one point, we get so dazzled by Motwani’s Commedia Del Arte style dancing and motor-mouthed patter doing a long segment of what in lesser hands would just be labeled bathroom humor that we almost forget that it started with a commentary on what it is like to be the other from a “shithole country”. But you don’t forget – and for days you unpack it and unpack it, yearning to see it again and again.
This frequent reviewer summarizes that performance doesn’t get better than this. BRAVO to CAATA for bringing #<EMBEDDED># to Chicago! If you love thought-provoking performance that unleashes belly laughs, keep an eye out for Motwani’s return.
For more information on #<EMBEDDED># and Pratik Motwani visit the #<EMBEDDED># website.