We were in the audience for “Found: The Musical” at Atlantic Theater Company last night. No sense in spending three months in Manhattan without taking in a few plays, right?
In December 2000, Davy Rothbart (real person) found a note on his car. It was from Amber to Mario. It begins “I fucking hate you” and ends “PS Page me later.” That note led Rothbart and his friend Jason Bitner to search for other “found” documents and eventually to create a magazine and website titled Found, which reprints love notes, birthday cards, kids’ homework, to-do lists, ticket stubs, poetry on napkins, doodles, and so forth, all of which people have come across and submitted for publication by Rothbart and company.
Now there’s a musical.
Answer to your question: Yes, by all means, see it if you have the chance. Appealing, talented cast. (We especially liked Barrett Wilbert Weed as Denise, the not-real Davy’s co-creator and on-and-off love interest. Her performance of “Barf Bag Breakup” is wonderful. But everyone, not excluding Nick Blaemire as Rothbart, is terrific.) The music is quite good. Many of the notes are genuinely funny and/or touching, and the cast does not miss a beat in delivering them for maximum impact. (In this production, each note is projected onto a backdrop as a cast member sings or speaks the words.) Here’s one artifact, which you can see projected behind Mikey D, Denise, and Davy, top right:
But here’s what I don’t know. How am I supposed to think about this?
The premise of the story for this musical is [minor SPOILER] that Davy gets seduced both by a woman (who claims to have written one of the notes reprinted in the magazine) and by a television network. He jilts his roommate, not-so-secret crush, and co-creator Denise to chase stardom, on the rationale that his success will benefit Denise and Mikey D, their roommate and roadie, too. All this has a predictable outcome: TV does its number on Found. So Denise was right and Davy is now appalled. When he refuses to participate in the transformation of the Found concept into something like America’s Funniest Home Videos, because he feels that it would betray all the anonymous people behind the artifacts published in his magazine, his LA girlfriend throws him over. Bruised and battered, he goes home. Will he get his magazine back? Will he get Denise back? What do you think.
So, I’m watching an off-Broadway show that someone is financing to the tune of, say, $200 grand a week. The investors, the cast, the book writers, the man who did the music, the director: everyone is hoping it will be hugely successful. It should be. Presumably nobody would object to a run on Broadway. And if Baz Lurhmann wants to make a movie based on Found? Would the real Davy Rothbart tell Hollywood to fuck off?
I am being honest when I say that I’m not sure what to think. What would you say to me?
- Loosen up, Jim. Enjoy it for what it is. It’s fun, it’s sweet, it’s feel-good. This play is actually admirable, in that it puts front and center, even celebrates, the unedited words of real people. The storyline is conventional fantasy, sure, but it’s fantasy in the service of making you feel more optimistic about human nature.
- Whatever, Jim. If you’re shocked that the entertainment biz would use itself as a punching bag to sell you something, you’re more naive than is proper for a person of your age.
- You’re right, Jim. There’s something squirm-inducing about a theater full of thirtyish-year-old Manhattanites (plus you!) laughing uproariously at or whimpering over anonymous notes that are often expressions of intense emotion and mostly not intended for prying eyes.
- It’s worse than you think, Jim. This is not only a show that turns its audience into voyeurs, but with lots of notes in this vein …
it’s also a musical that tries to sate for one night our insatiable appetite for nostalgia and for lamenting the lost innocence of childhood. In other words, it’s not about the artifacts themselves, the integrity of which the fictional Davy champions, or their authors, but about the uses to which we can put them for ourselves. Which, by the way, the show acknowledges, kinda sorta, with a wink and a nod.
Sigh. Personally, I’m voting for the first bullet point. In an effort to be a tad less dark. Everything grist for the mill called “How to Live in the World.” So keep an eye out for Found: The Musical at a theater near you.