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Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata is a melancholy but ultimately heartwarming musical celebration of old-school online weirdness. From top left clockwise, Amanda Sum, Josh Epstein, Chirag Naik ,Meaghan Chenosky

  • Title: Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata
  • Written by: Bill Richardson, Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone
  • Director: Amiel Gladstone
  • Actors: Meaghan Chenosky, Josh Epstein, Chirag Naik, Amanda Sum and Andrew Wheeler
  • Company: The Cultch
  • Year: Livestreams online to Nov. 22, 2020

We were lonely, addicted to the internet and desperately trying to use the digital world to find meaningful human connection even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Do You Want What I Have Got? A Craigslist Cantata, a hit Canadian song cycle that’s been kicking around in one form or another for more than a decade, is a reminder of that. (I stopped just short of writing “helpful reminder of that”.)

Bill Richardson, Veda Hille and Amiel Gladstone’s melancholy but ultimately heartwarming musical celebration of old-school online weirdness is livestreaming in a new production from The Cultch in Vancouver through Sunday.

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The revue is inspired by classified ads placed on the site Craigslist, which, and this should make you feel old, has itself been kicking around in one form or another for a quarter of a century.

Some of the songs penned by Richardson, Hille and Gladstone musicalize the text of actual classifieds, while others only take real ads as the jumping-off point.

While the show’s lyrics have been updated in certain places to reflect our current physically distanced times, it’s the form of this new production that makes it truly a product of now.

The musicians – Hille on piano and Barry Mirochnick on drums – are the only ones who perform from the actual stage at the Cultch in the livestream.

The other five actors – Meaghan Chenosky, Josh Epstein, Chirag Naik, Amanda Sum and Andrew Wheeler – all perform their multiple roles from their own tiny black-box studios, which have been constructed at a safe distance from one another around the historic theatre.

At least six cameras are involved in capturing all the live broadcast. The audience watching from home sometimes sees one performer, sometimes two – and sometimes we are treated to a Brady Bunch view of actors engaging in some cheerfully cheesy choreography by Amanda Testini.

Gladstone’s direction of the show/livestream is simple but ingenious: Each actor has a table containing props and costumes just out of the shot of their personal-performance pod, so they are constantly changing looks and appearing with new strange objects for sale in hand.

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Fan favourites from previous versions are here. Sum, a stunning singer whose voice is very versatile, gives a poignant rendition of 300 Stuffed Penguins, a song about a young woman who tells us she “collected penguins before they were trendy.”

Having moved back home after university, this Craigslist user is now selling this toy collection because it is at odds with an adult dating life – but the way in which she describes her once beloved birds indicates that there is a still a little kid inside her that will be hard to fully evict.

A counterpoint is Decapitated Dolls, performed with a truly dark sense of comedy by Chenosky, in which a mother offers up a pile of abused toys to anyone who will take them. “My daughter likes to pull the heads off dolls,” she sings. “The therapist says we should let her; so we do.” Maybe childhood isn’t as innocent as we want to imagine it is.

The male actors sing a lot of songs based on Missed Connections – and, yearning for men or women only glimpsed, appearing from the privacy of their own pods illuminated by candles, their characters definitely seem creepier than I recall from when I first saw the show.

Poor Wheeler must play a man who is looking to track down the hot clown on stilts he photographed at a mall, and play another who has filled his bathtub with cooked noodles and would like to pay someone to take a dip in them.

These guys were easier to laugh at when they were taken off the internet and put on a stage in front of a crowd; now, posted back online and streamed into my living room, they were reminders that the online world has become – or revealed itself to be – an even darker place than we thought in recent years. (How I wish I could go back to when I had never heard the word “incel”.)

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My mind didn’t go there all that often, however, thankfully. The cast’s very human performances mainly made me think about how few of us are really all that normal despite the images we cultivate in Zoom meetings.

And the final shot in the livestream is a bittersweet beauty – one I don’t want to spoil. But it was extra emotional coming on the day that new restrictions came into effect in British Columbia that have essentially outlawed in-person audiences there again. We have to live in this Missed Connection world for a while yet.

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