‘PostSecret: The Show’ turns real secrets into performance art

PostSecret.com identifies itself as “the largest advertisement-free blog in the world.” As of 2:58 p.m. on April 24, the site’s visitor count was 655,105,055. The 2004 brainchild of Frank Warren is a community art project that asks individuals to write a secret on a postcard anonymously and send it to his address in Germantown, Md. They’re instructed to be brief, legible and creative. Cards are posted to the site every Sunday, where people can read and share them via social media.

The world premiere of “PostSecret: The Show” compiles a sampling of these secrets. The postcards, each a miniature work of art, are presented on a screen above the stage. Some are read aloud by a trio of actors. Some are flashed on the screen for the audience to read, accompanied by guitar music played by Todd Murray, who is the best performer onstage.

The postcards are the soul of the show; when shown en masse, they reveal the sad and joyful oddities that drive humans to love and grieve. That said, “PostSecret” has morphed into a franchise. It has spawned five bestselling books, launched Warren’s motivational speaking career and was named one of the top 10 blogs of 2005 by Advertising Age in 2005. A 2011 exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art included 300 postcard images. A PostSecret smartphone app was wildly popular for three months, before user abuse caused Warren to shut it down.

“PostSecret: The Show” does three things. It presents secrets. It solicits new ones. And it attempts to explain the phenomena on stage by adding narrative. The result plays like a self-congratulatory infomercial. How could it not? The project is an unmitigated success. (Participants claim it saved their lives.)

While many of the postcards are silly, many more are desperate. They are sent by people on the verge of suicide, people suffering from eating disorders, people who cut themselves. The site serves a purpose, and I don’t doubt the sincerity of the gratitude expressed by some participants. But the more it is explained, the less serious the subject matter seems.

We learn Warren’s idea was sparked by his work on a suicide hotline, where he realized the most important thing he’d been taught was how to listen. We get a peek at his wife’s dismay at the number of secrets being delivered to his home. Editorializing trivializes the project.

The actors and their verbiage are superfluous, because the postcards speak volumes. Perhaps the show will expose the project to people who will benefit from it, but the play itself feels like group therapy.

It’s obvious people submit secrets for many reasons. Some seem to have no one in whom to confide. Others are trying to amuse. But there’s a difference between perusing anonymous secrets posted to a website and paying money to be entertained by them. The Internet has served Postsecret.com well. The stage exploits it.