Contemporary culture seems fixated on capturing a digital record of nearly everything. So how is it possible that people are still capable of vanishing into thin air, without a trace?
McGuire Theater was packed on Thursday night for Rabih Mroue’s new show, Looking for a Missing Employee, a reminder that it is not only possible for people to disappear, but that it’s actually a pretty common occurrence.
Set in Mroue’s native Lebanon, the show is a simple recitation of compiled newspaper clippings, notes and some video footage chronicling the disappearance of “RS” from the Ministry of Finance and the ensuing investigation attempting to explain it. We quickly learn that there is no way to know what the “real story” is, and so must reconcile ourselves to our preferred version of RS’s story as seen through Mroue.
While RS’s disappearance is disconcerting, Mroue’s thoughtful asides inject a necessary amount of humor and distance from the topic at hand. His subject is greatly aided by his presentation, which juxtaposes projected live images of Mroue (one his hands and compiled notes, one his face), who is sitting in the audience, with an evolving sketch of the retelling (drawn live by Ghassan Halawani, also sitting amongst audience members).
The effect is one of the artist erasing himself as he speaks, the screen making him anonymous and unreal, even though he is sitting only a few feet away. It also lends an air of sterility to the subject matter on its own, by distancing the newsclippings from their emotional content and giving them an illusion of assertive but disparate factuality.
In a missing person’s wake, Mroue claims, technology’s constant recordkeeping is instead turned into a way of creatively deciphering the reasons for their absence. His constant movement between different camera lenses and even complete disappearance from the performance area actively reinforce this idea.
There is a lesson in the comparison of three newspaper’s chronicles of RS’s disappearance. It displays that although many regard news and media writing as gospel truth, in all honesty newswriting is more an art, the most successful of which instills the firmest conviction of its particular illusion of truth into its readership.
The show could use some judicious editing. Looking for a Missing Employee’s best moments are found in small idiosyncratic details as the story’s told, but begin to seem so similar or insignificant that it is difficult to sustain attention throughout the two hour show. Mroue rambles at times, losing the audience with his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.
Less theater than an intentional manipulation of a Skype and Facebook saturated society, I suspect that Looking for a Missing Employee is a portent of future performance art, wedding new artistic mediums to recorded facts through constructed narratives that let us decide what we want to hear. It’s the modern world’s choose-your-own-adventure story.
+ Looking for a Missing Employee is the second performance in the Walker’s annual “Out There” series. It continues through Saturday, when Mroue will debut his forthcoming work about the relationship of social media and the protests in Syria. For more information visitwalkerart.org.