Zoomers by Matthew Gasda - A Gen‑Z Play Review (2023)
by Alex Beige
Posted October 11, 2023
Zoomers: A Millennial Angst Play
Oh boy. Here we go again, as the kids say. Holy fuck. Well. Look, I knew what I was signing up for. It says it on the tin: “Millennial Writes Play About Zoomers”. A play, on many counts, destined to fail—if not in the scope of attempting to capture the ethos of a generation in an hour and half, then it would fail in pure, unadulterated cringe that emerges from the premise. “Old man yells at children on front lawn.” We’ve seen this story before, and it’s not a pretty picture.
I didn’t think the play was bad, honestly. But I did find it offensive, and incredibly out-of-touch with the world I knew. The play did a much better job of conveying Millennial angst about the incomprehensibility of Gen Z, than serving as a genuine meditation of Gen Z itself. And that’s enough to take thirty minutes out of my day to complain about it. So let’s get into it. Here are the reasons I found this play mechanically and thematically grating—from a horse’s (Zoomer’s) mouth, so to speak.
But before that, who am I? I am one of the people Matthew’s play is about. I’m a Zoomer. I’m a 1999-er, bisexual, went to Columbia, go back to Alabama to visit my family, perform stand-up, write plays, and play Smash Ultimate religiously with my ex-college roommates in NYC. And let me tell you folks, I did not see myself onstage. It's a little disingenuous to call this a review. More of a righteousness-induced, hyperbolic hit piece about what I didn’t like about the play.
(Edit December 10, 2023: So I actually ended up like really meeting Matthew Gasda and he's actually quite a pleasant person. So you should take the viscera here as being mostly performative.)
Gasda Mistakes Zoomer Post-Irony for Lack of Self-Awareness
Within the premise of this play lies the idea that Zoomers have difficulty communicating with one another, and so use video games (or sex) as a coping mechanism. Sure. Well, Zoomers are notoriously sexless, and so centering casual sexual relations is a misstep for the play’s scope, but I accept the premise. Where this play fails, however, is its attribution of this miscommunication to a lack of self-awareness. We see characters stare their truths in face, unable to acknowledge them (until a female character ‘Socratic methods’ them to death), when I’d posit the complete opposite is true for Zoomers.
Gen Z is a generation of anxiety disorders and constant self-policing, even within subcultures and amongst friends. Gen Z has an overabundance of self-awareness, to the point of paralysis—with every experience becoming memeified and condensed into content for further analysis. Your average Zoomer can explain to you exactly why ordering on Amazon makes them feel guilty, they’re entirely aware of this process, and the larger sociopolitical environment that feeds into it. Instead, the communication ‘failure’ is the difficulty of conveying an appropriate response that matches the complexity of that scenario. You buy it on Amazon anyway and say, “Yikes lol”.
But is there really a comms failure to begin with? What I’m saying is that Gasda mistakes his inability to comprehend Zoomers as a lack of self-awareness on the Zoomer’s part. Post-irony is a fundamental aspect of Gen Z culture (somehow absent from the play), and Gasda misinterprets this post-ironic stance as an empty or insincere one. Perhaps Gasda perceives the gap between Gen Z’s self-assessment and communication, formulates a rationalization (“gEn Z nOt SeLf-AwArE”), and repackages it as something supposedly contradictory—but ultimately, he’s only exposed the mid-30s millennial mind's discomfort with the ambiguity of post-irony.
Underdeveloped Female 'Characters'
This one is low-hanging fruit, and I couldn’t un-see it once I saw it. How it possible that the play is half women, yet it doesn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel test? I mean metaphorically; I understand that test is for film. But the female characters are literally only there to ask the men questions about themselves. He’ll say “Idk how I feel” and she’ll say “do you feel like this?” and he’ll say “yeah, I do feel this way”, and Gasda calls that an emotional catharsis. The men are multidimensional characters looking to find their way, the women are reduced to helping them do it, giving the men therapy like it’s their job. Not good.
The character of Sarah was particularly hard to watch. She’s written as someone with an anxious-avoidant attachment style, maybe a hint of Cluster B. In terms of giving a female character complexity, this should’ve been a layup. But rather than being a sympathetic character at all, she exists only as the villain. She’s manipulative. The woman is manipulative and the man cowers, the victim, because, you see, women can be abusive, too. Sarah is not a person in this play, but she could’ve been.
And what do you know, I think Gasda has thoughts about women and domesticity. The female characters in the play are so sad about their barren wombs and lack of committed relationships. Okay, that was mean. But I’m being serious! They all so desperately place the men as objects as desire, and wonder if third-wave feminism didn’t make relationships harder after all :/ If you’ve seen the play, you know what I mean. It’d be different if this weren’t the case for EVERY female character, for whom a lack of committed relationship is synonymous with the void. Some femmes in Gen Z are comfortable in open relationships, or don’t center romantic experiences with men as their raison d’etre, but you wouldn’t know it from this play.
Outdated Play Structure
I was a little surprised upon learning the play did not have a plot or story. It was an amalgamation of scenes featuring Gasda’s ideas of what young people were like. But there’s a reason that the pseudo-Chekhov play format is no longer relevant. The kind of barebones, stripped-back conversation one gets manufactured from this play is a only an echo of the naturalistic podcasts & conversations that are a dime-a-dozen on the internet. To write a play about Zoomers in a format that hasn’t been relevant for decades is a fool’s errand—the structure of the play, while edgy at first glance, is quite tired, and doesn’t serve the play in any real way. There was nothing about the play’s conventions that enabled the Zoomer aesthetic.
If you ask someone, they’ll surely insist having several scenes without a causal relationship gives you a better chance at capturing more breadth, but in this case, I disagree. The play became unfocused, and extremely general in its approach as more and more tangentially related moments occurred. Like watching a Harold longform improv show, but without the magic or risk-taking. This would’ve been fine if there were a story, or if the play revealed itself as less committed to a serious reflection on the Zoomer experience. But instead, Gasda free writes for 100 pages and takes us along for the ride. The play is ultimately about . . . not very much. If it is about something, it's certainly not Zoomers.
'Woke' Social Awareness Absent?
This pulls on the self-awareness piece I mentioned earlier, but there wasn’t any element of ‘woke culture’ at all. I mean this pretty tongue-in-cheek, but the perception of Gen Z as a generation with strong moral convictions (whether we act on them is a different story) is more or less an accurate one. I kept waiting for the fuckboy’s friends to pull him aside for an intervention—which I honestly think is something Zoomers are good at. We love drama, and we love conflict, especially when we’re in the right (case-in-point, this blog post).
404: Zoomers Not Found
Gasda forces a use of the ‘suss’ here, and ‘vibes’ there. ‘No cap’. A character even mentions TikTok. But that doesn’t make the characters Gen Z. The most realistic character in the play was Mark, the 30-something boyfriend of one of the Zoomer characters, and I can’t help but assume authenticity was the reason. All of the other characters fell somewhere between caricatures of highschoolers, or millennials experiencing arrested development.
Where's the extremism? The niches? The youtube rabbit holes and the fractured, atomized online experiences that seep into everyday life? I don't mean mentioning a TikTok, I mean becoming the TikTok and emerging as an extension of that curated content? Matthew Gasda, I can show you what I mean some other time.
Should You See This Play?
If you're a millennial, you'll love this play. There's no greater joy than dunking on the generation below you in a public forum to reaffirm your beliefs about the world, and I invite you to do so. (The second greatest joy is dunking on the generation above.) If you're a Zoomer, save your $40 for a less self-aggrandizing show. Or maybe, buy Gasda's play collection! I hear it's great, and he sells it at every show ;)
Miscellaneous Hating (I Disliked the Play)
- A recurring theme is women not wanting to play on the Switch because…women don’t play video games? The switch’s demographics are 50/50—the switch is notoriously a gender-neutral console. Tiny objection.
- The millennial’s favorite character in Smash is not Mario, I refuse to entertain that. It should be Fox. Or Falco. (20XX, anyone?) Or Pikachu. Or Samus. MARIO???? Whatever.
- There are way too many questions in this play. It greatly contributed to the female-character-as-therapist experience. And it felt like every other page, someone asked, “what do you think I want in this scene?” It was jarring.
- I can't say I've heard a straight guy unironically call someone a bitch since middle school. Zoomers care about language a lot. Just a thought there.
- The second-to-last scene…where it’s just Gasda and his zoomer girlfriend hanging out…hm. Was the takeaway perhaps that Millennials can save us from ourselves? Actually, maybe this is what I'm railing against. The idea that this work was meant to distill Gen Z and its intricacies, while the play also defangs and ignores the primary reasons I think Gen Z and Millennials don't get along. Anyhow, the play treats these two characters most tenderly, and they're clearly who the play should've been about.
Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research
What kind of research is the Brooklyn Center for Theatre Research doing over there?? Not peer-reviewed, I'll tell you that. If the play was called Some Terrible Men that Are Young, I wouldn't feel nearly as strongly about it. But with the title being this provocative, however, someone had to push back. Bodies Bodies Bodies did it better. Bottoms did it better? I haven't seen that one yet.
(Edit December 10, 2023: Uhh wait actually they do really sick stuff sometimes nvm.)
Half-Baked Apology & What I Didn't Dislike
Okay! I feel so much better after writing that. Wow. Matthew Gasda, if you do read this, I’m glad I saw your play, and met several very nice people at the event! I played Smash with one of the leads afterwards. There were many parts I liked about it, also! I thought a lot of the bits about queerness were REALLY well-written, that caught me totally off-guard. All the performers were really fucking good. The way that Smash was woven into the first scene was also sick. I hope you don’t take this rant personally and that I’ll see you around! Your play existed perfectly in this space that it was good enough for me to think about it, yet approachable in subject matter such that I could describe why I mostly disliked it. Consider this an invitation to take the play less seriously. I'm a rando on the internet who happens to make websites and therefore can platform themselves. I'm also being inflammatory on purpose to get a reaction out of you. It's nothing personal, kid.
- Alex Beige
P.S. I'm writing a response play! Surely you'll hear if it happens.