Bill Dyszel

October 29, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Bill DyszelFor his new Don’t Tell Mama show, “The Internet Ate My Brain,” Bill Dyszel seems to have taken to heart the familiar creative-writing-course aphorism “Write what you know.” According to bio notes, communications technology has been a big part of Dyszel’s career. He is the author of 21 books, including many editions of Microsoft Outlook for Dummies, along with numerous magazine articles on things cyber.

His show is a comic look at the insidious ways in which the communications advancements of the last two decades have taken over our lives. Dyszel stresses how quickly and fully this transformation has happened. For early editions of the Dummies books, back in the late 1990s, his audience consisted mainly of people who were afraid of the new technology. Now, he reveals, his readers tend to be people who fear being separated from their gadgets, gizmos and screens.

With the help of director Linda Amiel Burns and musical director and pianist Richard Danley, Dyszel has crafted a show that employs comic songs in the tradition of such mid-twentieth-century performers as Allan Sherman and Tom Lehrer. More than half of the show’s musical numbers are Sherman-like parodies. “Selfies,” for instance, is a rewrite of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s “Alfie.” In an inspired reworking of Robert Wright and George Forrest’s “Baubles, Bangles, and Beads,” Dyszel gives us “Google, Facebook, and Bing” (for which he’s coined the wonderful non-lexical vocables “Bing-a-ling-a” and  “Bling-a-ling-a.”). For other songs, Dyszel has provided both music and lyrics. Among them is the thoughtful “Techno Porn Tango,” which is less about sexual imagery on the Web than it is about other mesmerizing, if seedy, online content, including “disaster porn” (“When alone/I watch train wrecks on my phone.”) Dyszel’s original melodies tend to be fairly basic, but they are sprightly and fun.

Most songs in this show are performed live, but some are incorporated into short original films, which Dyszel uses as visual aids. Much of his performance, in fact, has the feel of an informal seminar or tutorial. He exhibits slides with graphs and charts illustrating the points he’s making, He directs audience members to work together in pairs or small clusters and then report their findings back to the larger group.

Dyszel’s affability and strong, warm singing voice are among the show’s major assets. (According to his bio, he has considerable experience singing opera). In fact, he sounds so good that I found myself wishing that a non-comedic ballad or two had been appropriate for the program. Sometimes, though, he adopts a sort of clownishly pompous characterization during the songs. In such moments, he seems to be “pushing” the comedy, especially as these sequences are out of sync with the relaxed, natural, and friendly approach he takes elsewhere in the show. Such a tactic is unnecessary: The cleverness of his lyrics is enough to keep the audience amused.

Another minor problem: At one point in the performance I attended, Dyszel spoke as though he were on the verge of wrapping up the performance, but there was actually considerably more show to come. He and Burns might want to rethink the sequencing of this material and the narration that holds it together.

Dyszel points out that most people in his audience have experienced a world both before and after the digital revolution, which gives us a unique perspective. He stresses the possible danger involved in allowing the Internet to graze further on our gray matter. His encore number, a parody of Kander and Ebb’s “Cabaret,” suggests that congregating in places like Don’t Tell Mama is a good way to help ensure that our lives don’t become completely virtual ones. Is that preaching to the choir? Probably. But even the choir needs to be reminded sometimes to stop texting, turn off the smartphones and—literally and figuratively—enjoy the music.

“The Internet Ate My Brain”
Don’t Tell Mama  –  September 15, October 24, November 22, December 13

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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