For most people Nigerian email scams are a joke, ludicrously transparent spam messages claiming to be from a foreign prince or orphan heiress who needs help transporting money and reclaiming a vast fortune. All they need is your personal information and a great deal of money in fees, bribes and other expenses, and then untold riches will be yours for your help in their time of distress. Most people will look at this, laugh, maybe read it aloud to their friends, and then delete it. And that's fine: you're not the type the email scammers are fishing for. It's the people gullible enough to think such a preposterous scheme could possibly be on the level that they want, so that they can build a relationship over email to hook them in further, with frequent requests for more money to get past purportedly unexpected snags.
The situation is so rife with dramatic possibilities that it's surprising there haven't been a lot of plays about the topic. But at last one has popped up in the Bay Area's theatrical inbox that's worth flagging for follow-up. Scamoramaland is a world premiere production of Performers Under Stress, a 20-year-old local company imported from Chicago, where it reverse-engineered its name from the acronym PUS. (That may or may not seem less gross when you know it's a Samuel Beckett reference.) The play was adapted by Bay Area writer Eve Edelson from her own nonfiction book Scamorama: Turning the Tables on Email Scammers.
As that subtitle implies, the play is only partly about the scam and scammers themselves, and surprisingly little about their bilked victims. Much of the story is devoted to people who take it on themselves to mess with the fraudsters, wasting their time and their money by stringing them along with feigned interest and tall tales of their own.
Duane Lawrence and Geoffrey Colton in Scamoramaland; photo: Scott Baker
The technological theme of the play is mostly captured in Geo Epsilanty's projections. Twin screens flanking the stage show African street scenes, surveillance video and instant messenger popup windows. Those screens are pretty much all there is to Erich Blazeski's set, aside from some furniture that rolls off and on to establish the play's many locations.