Beverly Hills Playhouse Tackles Social Media and Relationships in “Years To The Day”

By Raquel Sanchez

Staff Writer

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I am a lover of all social media and technology. I have a Facebook, a twitter, an instagram and a tumblr with an iPhone app for each. I find it fascinating how young people develop good and lasting friendships with people they’ve never met, unlike my generation, who is still wary of the false intimacy these social networking sites can create. We still yearn for that face to face contact, the “let me look into your eyes and see if you are not lying to me” reassurances. The younger generation uses a gif to express their emotions or “feels,” instantly connecting with a stranger half-way around the world over their love of Tom Hiddleston and eventually set up meet dates in Paris, Sydney or New York.  I have yet to develop this level of intimacy, but I enjoy connecting, making new friends who have similar interests and finding old friends I haven’t since high school. Allen Barton’s play Years To The Day, plays with the perspective of how the social media I love, can create a false sense of intimacy between online friendships where the deepest conversations are made up of 140 characters, emoticons and hitting the Like button. 

Years To The Day, a participant in the Skylight Theatre Company’s new plays development lab, tells the tale of two old friends who decide to meet for coffee in Beverly Hills four years to the day since their last meeting, after only communicating through their online profiles.  Performed at the Beverly Hills Playhouse the play’s setting is simple. One table, two chairs, two actors and lights up. Director Joel Polis orchestrates this overdue date as if the audience is sitting in a café eavesdropping on a long conversation between these two gentleman. Michael Yavnieli, who plays Dan, enters, takes a seat and waits for his old friend Jeff, played by Jeff LeBeau, to arrive.  Jeff’s entrance is big; their greeting is exaggerated making me believe I was about to embark on a satirical journey on how people come off in their online profiles. Their exchange reminded me of one long Facebook post.  It seemed as though Barton was commenting on the way people who communicate online or through texts often write in ALL CAPS to emphasize their point of views and emotions. As a choice it felt inconsistent with the rest of the play once the actors fell into a more natural rhythm.

For over an hour, Dan and Jeff sit, drink coffee and discuss movies, politics, old friends, divorce and sexuality.  Dan, a middle of the road conservative, rages over the current president and the latest film. While Jeff, his liberal, recently divorced friend, opposes Dan on his hatred for the film and revels in the current president’s reelection, setting up the differences between the characters politics and tastes.

As characters go, Michael Yavnieli’s Dan was the most interesting. He was the more developed and solid character. I was intrigued by his anger. It went beyond conservative pontification. Michael Yavnieli has a great grasp of Dan’s psyche, giving his performance multiple levels. He wasn’t just a blustering conservative; he expressed sympathy and caring for Jeff, even as he often mocked his politics, film choices and hybrid car. I also found Dan’s back story very revealing:  When Jeff discloses that he is divorced we get an interesting look into Dan’s childhood as the son of parents who went through an acrimonious divorce, an experience that has scarred him through his adult life. This humanizes Dan’s character and keeps him from becoming a stereotype.

On the other hand, the character of Jeff, the liberal minded friend who has just come out of the closet after 10 years of marriage is mundane. The fact that Jeff comes out in his forties is fascinating in a society where young people are coming out in their late teens. Although Dan isn’t sensitive to Jeff’s revelation, he poses an interesting point of view: Jeff has benefited from living the life of a straight man for the last 25 years, and has not had to experience the intolerance gay youth face. Barton had an opportunity to provide depth to Jeff’s character by giving us an insight into his struggle as a married closeted man. It would have released him from coming off as a hypersensitive liberal.

I failed to connect with the characters. I wanted to sympathize with their issues. I couldn’t relate. Their stories were not compelling enough for me to care, but maybe I was not the audience for this play. Other people loved it while I felt deflated.

There was something missing in the story. I wanted a stronger incentive for these men to meet and Dan texting with Jeff’s wife while they were having marital trouble was not strong enough. There were points in the play where we seemed to be headed into interesting territory.  Dan brings up the suicide of an old friend and you get the feeling that something may have happened between this friend and Jeff in college. The inference is there, but Barton never pursues it, it’s a question hanging unanswered for us and Dan to speculate over.

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Years To The Day
Written by Allen Barton
Directed by Joel Polis

April 5, 2013 – May 12, 2013

Beverly Hills Playhouse
254 south Robertson Blvd.
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

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