“Zoomers,” the new play written and directed by Matthew Gasda, explores the specific milieu of artsy 20-something transplants, largely the same population that frequents the Greenpoint loft of the Brooklyn Center for Theater Research, where the show is currently running.
It’s immediately clear that the 30-something Gasda, whose 2022 play “Dimes Square” captured the crowd of artists, writers and scenesters in New York City’s downtown, has spent significant time observing his younger subjects. With the exception of a few awkward phrases, his naturalistic play captures the way Gen Z talks.
“Zoomers” opens with three roommates ambling around their Brooklyn apartment in Bushwick, a land where shaggy hair is a personality trait and hard kombucha might as well be on tap. Michael (Jonah O’Hara-David), Jacob (Henry Lynch), and Jada (Reneé-Nicole Powell) are recovering from a night of respective drinking, smoking weed and existential dread. The cure for their ills? Intense rounds of Super Smash Bros.
The video game is their other vice. For the emotionally stunted Jacob in particular, it’s a pleasurable escape whenever conversations get too heated. Any time characters dare to reveal their anguish — Michael’s commute is interrupted when a man jumps in front of the L train; Jada dreams of metastasizing tumors in her eyes — their traumas are swept aside by a call to play Smash or a damning accusation of killing the “vibes.” It is not until the penultimate scene of the play, when a new roommate named Ella (Sophia Englesberg) presses her much older architect boyfriend (George Olesky) about his emotional detachment, that we see any of the characters scale the hump of adversity and land somewhere close to catharsis.
Conflict avoidance, and the way digital media abets it, is a recurring theme here, but “Zoomers” is no satirical work of social horror. The play refuses to hook onto any distinct point of view about the generational issues it raises. It’s neither a full-on curmudgeonly condemnation of Gen Z stereotypes — avoidant, anxious, narcissistic, polyamorous — nor an enlightening investigation of them. Instead, Gasda goes full Warhol with his art: replication for the sake of reflection. The result is a play filled with humorous moments that feel real, but trite.
Most disillusioning of all is the play’s flimsy treatment of class and privilege. Save for a throwaway comment Jada makes about Michael and Jacob coming from money, “Zoomers” acts as if the wealth needed to afford all of this idleness and self-therapizing is a given for young people. And in a play that’s supposed to be about real life, there is no greater fiction.
Perhaps I would have fewer demands for a shorter work, but at 2 hours and 15 minutes, “Zoomers” has the time to do more. It also has a strong cast of hungry new actors on its side. With a playwright as hawk-eyed as Gasda at the helm, “Zoomers” has the potential to be a substantial work about the new-to-adulthood generation, but it won’t get there playing safe, or playing Smash.
At the Brooklyn Center for Theater Research, Brooklyn, and at 269 West 25th Street in Manhattan for performances on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27; brooklyncenterfortheatreresearch.com. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes.
This review is supported by Critical Minded, an initiative to invest in the work of cultural critics from historically underrepresented backgrounds.