If you have ever wondered about the love lives of electric toothbrushes, you need to see Is Anybody Out There? We’re Right Here, a funny and surreal new film from Hand2Mouth Theatre. In the project’s first act, we enter a bathroom where a cocky, deep-voiced brush is lusting for its tall, seductive counterpart. “Let’s brush!” the second brush says with relish.
That scene could only have come from Hand2Mouth. Whether it’s chronicling the history of Oregon communes in Psychic Utopia or sending audiences on a psychedelic quest in Dream|Logic, the company has often merged the intensely bizarre with the irrevocably human. Two toothbrushes in love might seem strange, but the yearning that drives their awkward attempts to connect are nothing if not relatable.
Hand2Mouth hit a new creative high last month with Distancias, a collaboration with Moriviví that offered a satirical and soulful vision of life during COVID-19. If Distancias was a seasoned older sibling, Is Anybody Out There? is a struggling younger child. It revisits the same themes—including urban isolation and online extremism—but it isn’t as profound as its predecessor.
That doesn’t mean you should skip Is Anybody Out There? Like Distancias, it is an ocean of wondrous images and provocative ideas. You may be left feeling baffled or disoriented, but that’s part of the thrill. Hand2Mouth has a history of challenging your beliefs about what theater can be—and the new film upholds that tradition, even when it stumbles over its sweeping ambitions.
Is Anybody Out There? is split into three vignettes, the first of which is called “YerToob.” That segment doesn’t just feature the aforementioned toothbrush romance. Scenes unfold on a website where tooth brushing has become fodder for right-wing raging and sports analysis. When a bigoted commentator claims that a particular toothbrush is part of “the never-ending liberal war on gender,” or an ESPN-type pundit analyzes tooth brushing as if it were part of the Olympics, you marvel at Hand2Mouth’s uncanny understanding of how the fanatical attention to detail common in the information age has distorted the truth instead of illuminating it.
That understanding reverberates through the film’s spoofy second act, “Deep State News,” which is about a television program that breaks stories that sound like the worst fears of conservative conspiracists. The deep state has its own version of CNN! Joe Biden has a clone! Babies are being eaten!
“Deep State News” cleverly riffs on the outlandish yarns spun by QAnon believers, but it is a superficial treatment of the topic. While Trump is the star of the far-right narrative, 28% of the Q sympathizers surveyed in a 2020 Tufts University poll said that they planned to vote for Joe Biden. Voters of multiple persuasions are so disenchanted with American politics that they have been willing to believe repellent lies spreading through our post-Pizzagate world—a disquieting reality that “Deep State News” chooses to ignore rather than investigate.
Is Anybody Out There? concludes with “Little Brown Box,” an ethereal montage that tries to comfort viewers struggling with pandemic fatigue (“It’s going to be OK,” a voice echoes) but leaves you feeling frustrated. What made Distancias meaningful was its insistence that it was OK to burst into tears. While “Little Brown Box” means well, it tries too hard to cheer you up.
Yet there are other moments when Is Anybody Out There? makes your soul expand with joy—especially during the hilariously absurd “YerToob” scenes in which characters discover everything from earrings to a person in their mouths. One of the most memorable lines in the film is, “Like it or not, the earth is where we make our stand.” If that’s true, Is Anybody Out There? is at its best when it makes its stand with a sense of mischief.
see it: Is Anybody Out There? We’re Right Here streams at hand2mouththeatre.org/is-anybody-out-there-were-right-here. $15-$25.