By Kevin Zimmerman
Not long ago, trolling was a fishing term used to describe the practice of dragging a baited line behind a boat.
But a quick look at Urban Dictionary redefines it as a “deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.”
Since the Internet lets a troll publish comments anonymously, the poster can toss out racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic and hateful speech, then hide in the shadows to relish in the ensuing chaos.
In Ken Greller’s play “Troll,” produced by The Rushline Co. at the Secret Theatre through April 24, the playwright asks whether trolling is a harmless amusement or a destructive force.
As a jumping-off point, Greller uses the real case of a troller who posted non-pornographic images of underage girls on a thread labeled “Jailbait” on the social news networking site Reddit.
In mid-October 2012, Gawker published a piece which revealed the identity of the “Jailbait” poster. A few days later, the poster was fired from his job at a financial office in Texas.
On stage, Ari, played by Brian Drummy, spends his days in Manhattan toiling for Gawker, publishing pieces on his sexual dalliances using the gay hookup app Grindr, and struggling with his desire to do something that matters.
He believes he has found it by uncovering the identity of the “Jailbait” poster, and he plans to publish all of the poster’s personal information—a practice known in web parlance as doxing.
But just because you can do something does not necessarily mean you should do it—an ethical dilemma Ari does not seem to grasp.
Not that he doesn’t hear from the other side—from his friend, frat-boy Tim; former boyfriend turned heterosexual Ben; and even the “Jailbait” poster himself, Arnold.
Each of the actors in the three supporting roles delivers an honest, funny performance.
As Tim, Andrew Block, who we first see at a Halloween party dressed as Paul Ryan from the Time magazine photo shoot of the congressman working out in the gym, only seems interested in getting drunk, hooking up with women, and prolonging the college experience as long as he can.
Reggie D. White as Ben gives the production’s most skillful performance.
Ben must deal with his ex-boyfriend while trying to move on with his life. Yes, as Ari says at one point, Ben may be crawling back into the closet with his desire to date women, but it is clear that Ben is struggling and could use support.
He, too, tries to persuade Ari to drop the “Jailbait” reveal.
“Just because you’re miserable and [expletive deleted] up doesn’t mean you get to do whatever you want,” Ben says.
And in his one scene as Arnold, Jeffrey Delano Davis runs through Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of death—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance—when confronted by Ari.
Arnold trolls to amuse himself in his otherwise sad existence. None of it really means anything or is actually illegal. He is just looking for a little relief from reality.
“Not everybody gets to be happy,” Arnold says, “but not everybody has to be sad.”
While Drummy at times seems less able to deliver than his co-stars, he still gives a fine performance as Ari. He also earns respect for the brave act of completely disrobing at one point.
Ultimately, Ari must decide if destroying Arnold will help save his own life.
As the show winds down with Hurricane Sandy kicking up outside, it is not clear what, if anything, Ari has accomplished.
Director Jason Modica keeps the action moving along at a nice clip in this one-act, approximately 90-minute production. Cheers also to scenic and projection designer Bryce Cutler, who effectively uses more than 150 cardboard shipping boxes that encircle the Secret’s stage area.
If you go
When: Through April 24
Where: Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City
Contact: (718) 392-0722
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm