All in the Interactive Family

Article excerpt

In his latest sound-and-light, multimedia stage extravaganza, director George Coates turns his well-honed use of cutting-edge, computer-animated video technology to a serious subject: the impact of two-way, interactive TV on family privacy and social cohesiveness. Box Conspiracy: An Interactive Show, created by Coates and composer Marc Ream, recently completed a six-week run at Coate's performance venue, Theatre Works in San Francisco.

Audiences don cardboard 3-D glasses to bring into focus a blurred projection of the Hornsby home: an enlarged, postmodern version of a farmhouse on a hill. Derek Hornsby (played by Tim Wiggins) is a high-tech everyman, a product designer for information industries whose fall from job security (and subsequent loss of substantial income) strands his family in limbo in their isolated dreamhouse. The Hornsbys are perfect hostages for persistent market researchers who recruit "test" families in order to determine which of 5,000 channels consumers will watch on the new interactive network, and which goods they prefer if supplied free.

Derek, who is trying to perfect his own invention, the "disorganizer"--a subversive TV jamming device--proves sales-resistent. But Derek's agoraphobic wife Isabelle (Emerald O'Leary) is hard-sold into submission and becomes a compulsive TV shopper hooked on virtual reality. In desperation, Derek becomes a media-hijacker who pitches his disorganizer on the shopping channel in an attempt to end his wife's consumer-compulsion and media-dependence.

Isabelle's decision to accept the TV "box" unleashes some truly spectacular video-"morphing" effects: the electronic transformation of a chair she fancied in Gone with the Wind from wood to wicker, and its cloning to furnish her living room; the plucking and shrinking of a period street lamp from An American in Paris to fit her table. …