Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: A Party for the Privileged Few

The immersive theater trend is on the rise. Theater artists are breaking boundaries and not only staging plays in interesting locations but incorporating a little audience participation into the night. In the latest from This Is Not A Theatre Company comes Versailles 2015, conceived and directed by Erin B. Mee and written by Charles Mee and Jessie Bear. Versailles 2015 is a social gathering turned scene and monologue excursion where the lives of the fortunate are explored.
Staged in 5 locations in an apartment, Versailles 2015 begins as a little party with light refreshments and a mix and mingle. From that moment, it’s a game of “who’s the actor” where eager participants seem to search out the select few plants while others sit on the couch and watch the action from the "wings". The conceit of the evening is a group of guests are brought to the home of a woman who has commissioned a renowned choreographer to dance in her bathroom. Once all the guests have arrived, it’s time for the real plays to begin. Broken into 5 small groups, there are scenes and monologues staged in every room of the apartment. No matter which room you start and end in, the same narrative is offered with a concluding culmination bringing all the guests together in the living room. Versailles 2015 attempted to transport the audience to a time and place of privilege where the upper class roams. Many of the short plays, whether they were monologues or scenes, dealt with privilege, the 1%, and how it affects those living in that echelon. With themes of beauty, race, and morals inside, the plays by Charles Mee and Jessie Bear varied. And that may be due to the statistical nature of some of the texts. Though it may have been due to my rotation, Versailles 2015 didn’t resonate until the second bathroom scene featuring the slightly vain beauty Judy. While it still had elements of fact throwing, it also had a defined character journey. And it was beautiful. It’s unfortunate the others lacked that power because it could have made Versailles 2015 noteworthy.
What’s interesting about Versailles 2015 is how it blended story with improvisation. Director Erin B. Mee had her actors stick to the script once the story began but at times, it was less interesting than when the company had freedom to play. It almost made the actors more calculated and less comfortable than a normal piece they would tackle. There was semblance of character during the mingle portion of the evening, but that only came through if you conversed with the company. But when it came to the actual text written by Mee and Bear, Caitlin Goldie as Judy crafted a strong character. Goldie was the greeter at the host apartment and instantly had a hoity vibe but when her vulnerability was exposed in the bathroom, Goldie tugged at hearts. As the blind date duo, Christopher Morriss and Colin Waitt proved why Lucas and Rob should never see one another again. Morriss, who was mostly limited to the bed, had a bit of a whine to his character while Waitt exuded confidence with a tinge of elitism. Jonathan Matthews as the renowned choreographer proves that courage trumps substance. Eyes were wide open as Matthews used every inch of the bathtub as he was surely committed to his craft. The rest of the company had a great fun playing characters that may be out of the realm of their reality.
Erin Mee’s ambitious piece was a noble attempt of riding the wave of immersive art, but there were elemets missing for the thesis of Versailles 2015 to truly make an impact. Location alone, what the characters were talking about didn’t quite reflect the place. The world was intimate yet space is what the pieces called for. Sure, finding a million dollar penthouse was likely not in the cards, but that’s what Versailles 2015 is. Regardless of this, Mee curated the evening in a smooth manner, allowing the world to flow in the simplest of ways.
For those who have never experienced this style of theater, it’s likely to come across as weird. Especially when you’re asked to put on shoe booties. While the stories individually may not have substance when it came to character, collectively they put a mirror up to the audience at the end. Are the one percenters really the privileged or are us artists the privileged ones since we get to do what we love?