Is satire dead?
Likely not. But at a time when headlines from The Onion regularly predict the future, and when SNL spoofs are often nearly verbatim recreations of real world political events—when, in other words, the world is so insane, it essentially parodies itself—it’s worth asking: What can, and should, satire do?
Audiences might find themselves asking that question during Eat The Devil, a maximalist spoof of the tech-obsessed, sex-crazed, post-truth time in which we live. It takes, as its comedic fuel just about everything in sight: internet nutjobs, furries, Amazon, incels, apocalyptic Christians, reckless capitalists…the list goes on. The result is a farcical bonfire, but, one wonders, to what end?
At the center of the story is Mia, an intelligent sex robot in development by Penny (Lexie Braverman) and her colleagues at Abyss Creations for the mass market. Mia spends her days at the Abyss lab watching porn, learning how to fulfill any conceivable fantasy. Schuster nails the Siri-like monotone, and manages to keep a perfectly straight face while parroting lines like “Why don’t you show me what you got in there big boy” for her hubristic creators.
Mia, predictably, becomes the source of a whole lot of chaos. But there’s plenty to go around from the get-go in this hyper-sexualized, corporatized, right-wing fun house universe of Nadja Leonhard-Hooper and Dan Nuxoll’s invention. Here, YouTube becomes BlowHole, Twitter becomes Twatter, JetBlue becomes Redtube, and Amazon’s Alexa becomes an anti-terrorist drone cooing Big Brother-esque threats: “We’re going to hold you till you fall asleep. Don’t riot. Don’t resist. Just submit…your orders and let us process the world for you.”
Not every aspect of the world gets the full fun house treatment. Some things stay essentially as we know them today, which is to say, ridiculous. Real-life characters like Tomi Lahren (Jenna Rubaii) and Alex Jones (Nathaniel Kent), for instance, really need no lampooning to seem absurd, but Leonhard-Hooper and Nuxoll—with no-holds-barred performances by Rubaii and Kent— nonetheless manage to take their babbling to ludicrous new heights. Take this gem from Lahren: “The last time I checked, America wasn’t founded by a gender dysmorphic tween in a Bulbasaur costume. America was founded by big-dicked men with powdered low ponytails.”
What do technologists, right-wingers and furries have in common? Eat The Devil does, somehow, manage to connect the dots into a story that comprises a multitude of sub-plots, locations and characters, requiring several actors to do double-duty. With James Hunting’s scene design and Scott Fetterman’s video design, they all manage to pack in together on one stage, clown car-like.
The experience, under Nick Flint’s direction, is altogether a messy one. But perhaps that’s the point. “Look, dude, the world has always been a shitshow. At least now it is a funny shitshow,” Penny says at one point in the play. “Take this deeply stupid moment for what it is: the most entertaining time to be alive. Enjoy it while you can.”
She has a point. In 2019, those privileged enough not to experience the most immediately devastating consequences of our political nightmare are indeed living in a funny shitshow. Seeing that sprawling mess reflected so acutely in a theater can often be entertaining, but it can sometimes feel too easy.
Satire pokes fun in order to expose wrongs. Eat The Devil has selected a potpourri of wrongs, and they’re all worthy targets. But like much of today’s satire, it struggles to challenge an audience whose predilections are likely set in stone. Laughing at our sworn villains feels good, after all, but only for so long—especially when, as our Villain-in-Chief might say, they just keep winning, winning, winning.