Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
By Bec Willett
Mishu Hilmy’s branding is impressive. With a sleek program and website, you get a strong sense that he knows who he is, what his voice is, and how to market it. When it comes to his latest solo sketch show TRAPPED IN THE NETFLIX his voice remains definitive, but this time the product is a little less polished, a little less curated.
In the vein of TRON or THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS, one rainy Chicago evening, down-on-his-luck Hilmy is physically launched into the inner workings of his Netflix queue. What follows is an exploration that asks questions about the societal impact of binge-watching while also displaying what Hilmy seems to be best at: impressions.
As the show proceeds, Hilmy’s impressions grow in specificity. We start with some more generalized versions that are primarily facially- and vocally-focused, such as Kevin Spacey and Mr. Frizzle (although I’m not sure why it was necessary to switch genders). Further along in the piece, we are treated to those impressions that are most convincing and most humorous, where Hilmy uses his whole body to mimic the characters of Luke from GILMORE GIRLS and MAD MEN’S Don Draper. In and of themselves impressions of television characters can be entertaining but here they’re especially appropriate for a demographic who would no doubt have experienced Netflix binging – and Hilmy knows it. He uses this cultural connection to elevate the show beyond a party trick by adding his own voice as commentary to each character. Don Draper appears before us mansplaining about mansplaining, Luke monologues grumpily about his lack of independence while embracing codependency, and Mr. Frizzle experiences the effects of an ill-considered night in Wrigleyville.
Hilmy’s impressions may be the most engaging part, but there’s more to this piece: the overarching story links them together forming a throughline that doesn’t quite have enough engine to drive this piece forward. It’s unfortunate then that these sections are less confidently executed. Many of the beats are ill-timed, the writing can meander, and the direction lacks drive. I suspect that much of this fluster is a result of the multitude of off-stage costume changes, which, while fun, were often unnecessary. Caitlin Boylan’s lights and sound went a long way towards bridging some of this downtime and effectively evoked mood and location, but there’s no escaping that as an audience we spent a long time in the dark.
TRAPPED IN NETFLIX could benefit from a little more specificity and fewer costume changes, but Hilmy’s skill with impressions and interweaving of social commentary form a strong core to this solo sketch show with a definitive voice.