My mom and I spent two days in New York City just before Christmas and got tickets to a new musical on Broadway called Dear Evan Hansen. Interestingly, the play has a Philadelphia backstory, as co-composer Benj Hasek based some of the play on his own high school events. To read more on the play’s Philadelphia roots click here: Philly.com. I wasn’t prepared as to how deeply the play would make me contemplate what it means to connect with others in our world today. In the play, Ben Platt plays Evan Hansen, a socially anxious teen who has lived a life filled with rejection. In the beginning of the performance, Platt perfectly portrays Evan’s painful awkwardness and inability to fit in with any of his peers. Through a series of events, Evan becomes involved in the aftermath of a suicide of his classmate Connor—who had previously bullied Evan. The audience watches as Evan slowly gets pulled deeper and deeper into a world of lies, then finally a series of tweets shares Evan’s false reality where Connor and Evan were best friends. A YouTube video of Evan “breaking down” about Connor’s suicide goes viral, and suddenly an outpouring of support for Evan and Connor is spread around the country.
The lies created and exacerbated by social media change Evan’s entire world and reality; he becomes popular at school, gets the girl of is dreams, and for a brief moment we feel excited for him and his new ability to fit in. But then we realize that while Evan’s social anxiety is disappearing, he becomes a different person who we don’t recognize. He becomes obsessed with his popularity, and starts treating those around him with disregard—very unlike the original Evan we had learned to love. The play tugs at the audience’s heartstrings while exposing the dark side of social media. In a brilliant way it shows how social media can be used for inclusion, but at the same time the world portrayed on social media has the potential to be far from authentic. One person has the ability to create an alternate reality, one that the “outside” world simply accepts as truth. At the end of the play, only those close to Evan really ever discover the truth, the rest accept what is portrayed on social media as what is real. This idea is so relevant in our world today—do we ever stop to think what we see and read on social media may not represent the whole story, and is possibly just an extension of a world created by someone else? Furthermore, how does our social media world change our own self-perceptions? Are these changes ever for the better?
For a sneak peak into Evan’s World, watch below: