The Sound of One Man Clap­ping

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - BY DAVID WEISS @bay­toven

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ing, low self-con­trol boor at a play or movie con­stantly nudg­ing his wife and snark-whis­per­ing while the room rocks with laugh­ter (which is why she sits two seats away when­ever pos­si­ble). In a per­fect world, I’d be alone in an empty theater, with no one gig­gling at prat­falls within five nau­ti­cal miles of me.

Well, I must have been chant­ing to the right graven im­ages, as I re­cently found my­self the one and lonely au­di­ence mem­ber in a ware­house/ per­for­mance space in down­town Los An­ge­les—and not be­cause the rest of the city was stuck in traf­fic or get­ting their bliss on in a ka­bala/pi­lates class. My fel­low An­ge­lenos couldn’t have come even if they’d wanted to, for I was the evening’s only in­vited guest.

Wel­come to You, a max­i­mally min­i­mal­ist ex­er­cise in that ever-ex­pand­ing genre known as im­mer­sive theater, where the tra­di­tional line be­tween per­former and au­di­ence is blurred, if it ex­ists at all. What fine breed of masochis­tic pro­ducer goes through the byzan­tine tu­mult and fear­some ex­pense of mount­ing a play for ex­actly one cus­tomer per evening? Max Bi­a­ly­stock comes to mind, but in this case put the blame on a hy­per­cere­bral play­wright-pro­ducer by the name of Ed­ward Tucker, whose Hall & Mir­rors pro­duc­tion com­pany set the price for a ticket to You at (drum­roll, please!) a bankroll-bust­ing $5,000 per—which begs a droll cynic like my­self to won­der, “Do fries come with that Shake­speare?”

That’s eas­ily the most ex­pen­sive theater ticket on record. Mind you, a ticket to Bruce Spring­steen’s solo Broad­way show re­cently popped up on Stub­hub for a cool $9,000. (If I had a spare nine large, I’d def­i­nitely find my­self a nice used Porsche to sit in—not a theater seat.) And yes, pommes frites do come with the price of a ticket to You, as well as caviar, Ser­rano ham or what­ever else you care to eat or drink. Not only that, you will be picked up by a chauf­feur-driven Su­vlimo and whisked to an un­marked build­ing where—upon your grand en­trance—seven smartly at­tired young ac­tors are posed statue-still in what looks like a swank cock­tail lounge. At which point, some­body claps hands and the per­form­ers come to vivid life, wel­com­ing the night’s priv­i­leged guest (ahem!) with vel­vet hand­shakes and even softer smiles. If you’ve ever won­dered what it felt like to be, say, the pope (or even Spring­steen), this is about as close as you may ever get.

En­sconced at the bar, we ban­tered like long-lost cousins for a good while, shar­ing names and birth­places and the like. I sipped on a sec­ond old fash­ioned (the first one had awaited me in the SUV) and started to loosen up a smidgen. I’d had a gnaw­ing ap­pre­hen­sion that I was in for what could be an un­com­fort­ably per­sonal evening (word was that the staff had Googled my CV prior to show­time). Was I to play some kind of off-sea­son Ebenezer Scrooge about to face my wicked past, replete with howling ghosts and jan­gling chains? That’s en­ter­tain­ment? Hey, but you don’t pay the big dol­lars and ex­pect to be merely di­verted. For that kind of dough a bit of cathar­sis is in or­der, maybe even a lit­tle ter­ror.

Then one of the ac­tors prof­fered an ac­tual menu of 10 the­atri­cal pieces (or “plates”) and asked me to se­lect as few or as many as I liked, in any se­quence. When I chose “Recherche” to kick things off, the play­ers gasped nearly

If you’ve ever won­dered what it felt like to be the pope (or even Spring­steen), this is as close as you may ever get.

in uni­son. I’d picked a piece sub­ti­tled “The lessons we learn from our par­ents haunt our dreams,” and it proved to be the most psy­cho-dra­matic en­trée of the evening. I was led gin­gerly from my comfy barstool to a fold­ing chair “on­stage” as the lights went from am­bi­ent to brightly the­atri­cal. My drink­ing bud­dies were now “in char­ac­ter,” and the ac­tion—a caus­tic ex­change be­tween an es­tranged fa­ther and daugh­ter—took place around me as if I were in­vis­i­ble, though that il­lu­sion was quickly dis­pelled when a large rect­an­gu­lar mir­ror was wheeled to within a few feet of where I sat. Gulp.

The plot may not have thick­ened at that point, but my self-con­scious­ness surely did. Jolted back to a few child­hood mem­o­ries of my own, I lis­tened in­tently to the sharply etched di­a­logue and tried to look more com­fort­able than I felt. “Most kids have an ado­les­cence. You had a re­search lab of sadism,” the fa­ther hissed to his grown daugh­ter, who was busy rat­tling off a laun­dry list of ado­les­cent griev­ances. After 15 min­utes of emo­tion­ally fraught (and smartly acted) ac­tion, we re­paired to the bar and re­sumed our civil­ian roles as if noth­ing un­usual had tran­spired. I ap­plauded them (the next-qui­etest sound to one hand clap­ping), and con­ver­sa­tion deep­ened a bit, go­ing from fa­vorite taco joints to shards of per­sonal his­tory.

Twenty such so­cia­ble min­utes passed be­fore I had the pres­ence of mind to re­quest an­other filet de the­atre, which in­volved a dif­fer­ent sce­nario. In fact, each of the “plates” on the menu was free­stand­ing and dis­con­tin­u­ous—call it sketch tragedy

After four plate­fuls of al­ter­nately stim­u­lat­ing and har­row­ing “hal­fact” plays, I had be­gun to fade. Be­ing “you” was harder than it looked, onor off­stage. Yet some­where be­tween the boozy bad­i­nage and the close en­coun­ters of the Strind­ber­gian kind, a mi­nor mir­a­cle had oc­curred: My prickly in­ner critic had soft­ened, had even grown fond of th­ese seven earnest play­ers. I was Bot­tom and they my hum­ble troupe of rus­tics. A mid­sum­mer evening de­voted to me had some­how be­come a mat­ter of we.

But no, that wasn’t a tear that you saw welling in the corner of my eye as we said our good­byes at evening’s end—it was prob­a­bly just per­spi­ra­tion. Re­mem­ber, those con­founded stage lights were aw­fully bright. Let’s just say I was thor­oughly im­mersed by the pro­ceed­ings and leave it at that.

You will be per­formed at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in­def­i­nitely—or un­til the pro­ducer finds his next par­a­digm to shat­ter. Tick­ets are sold at face value but ap­par­ently not for profit’s sake; Tucker says a sin­gle per­for­mance costs nearly $5,000 to put on. If it was com­merce that mat­tered, I’m sure a smart fel­low like him could hash out a bet­ter busi­ness model.

Arsenic and Old Lace, any­one?

SELF CEN­TER The ac­tors in You present their au­di­ence of one a menu of vi­gnettes from which to choose, so the play changes night by night.

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