1926 Pleasant - Walking Shadow Theater Company
This wasn't so much audience participation as it was audience cooperation. The actors never actually interact with the audience. They just take their cues from what the audience does.
A group of 18 spectators is quickly thrust center stage, or rather center condo, presented with a letter which one person reads aloud to the rest. Then the assigned tasks, hidden in riddles, lead to more letters, more riddles and more assignments. Throughout, the actors cue off the completion of tasks - often words recited, sometimes something as simple as ringing a bell. These scenes build on one another, prompting more tasks, and delving deeper into the troubled history of the condo, which threatens to undo the happy couple who are its new owners, perhaps separating them forever.
It's tricky for both actors and audience to know how to play this, since there's no traditional fourth wall, and the audience is often unwittingly providing cues for the actors' next scene. There are a number of moments that make you jump, as well as many that make you giggle.
And the audience truly does have to get over its initial shyness about speaking up or taking charge because these tasks can only be completed (swiftly, if at all) by everyone working together. Enormous wooden jigsaw puzzles are shuffled into place. Number puzzles built into the wall reveal a phone number. Boxes form letters and hide signal bells. Ribbons help uncover a message amid a room with four walls littered with words and phrases all over them. Egg shells hide pieces of the final clue. It's a great use of every nook and cranny of a not so spacious living space - certainly not spacious for a crowd of 18. David Pisa's penchant for puzzles pays off handsomely.
Despite the fact that the audience is often crowded right up against them, John Heimbuch and Cherri Macht are able to maintain their own ever-more-creepy reality throughout. Their talents, coupled with the sly direction of Amy Rummenie, really make this concoction work. Since there are so very many ways something like this could have come apart at the seams, the fact that it comes off smoothly is pretty remarkable. And an awful lot of fun.
Walking Shadow seems to be quite fond of not repeating itself. Though I've enjoyed their last three Fringe outings, I can't say that any one of them is remotely like the others. They are constantly in the process of showing me one more thing they can do, and do well. I look forward to whatever's next. And we won't have long to wait.
1926 Pleasant is kicking off Walking Shadow's first big season, which you can learn more about at www.walkingshadowcompany.org - and then go take in some well-done theater as we all wait for Fringe to roll around again on the calendar. Walking Shadow will be more than happy to help keep your dance card full until then.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006 at 11:41 PM
Filed under 4 Star Shows - Excellent