Los Angeles Theater Review: A SILVER LINING (a Working Theater at Art Share L.A.)

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by Tony Frankel on November 13, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

SILVER DOESN’T EVEN GET A BRONZE

It took fifteen actors, two writers, two directors, and three designers to create a Working Theater’s one-hour interactive theatrical experience, a Silver Lining (Matt Soson is co-director, co-writer, actor, and composer, so I assume it’s his baby somehow). With mannered acting, poor narrative-free writing, cheap-looking design elements, and bemusing audience participation, the event was so silly, confusing, and amateurish that it becomes a poster child for why I am reluctant to jump on the “interactive theater” bandwagon.

It occurs at Art Share L.A., a 28,000 square-foot downtown warehouse with 30 subsidized live/work lofts for artists upstairs. Only 12 patrons are allowed per show downstairs, where we are led through classrooms and exhibitions on some kind of dystopian journey. After watching a couple argue about an unplanned pregnancy, a spunky breathless girl comes from the future and kills both of them. She’s from the A SILVER LINING - a Working Theater POSTERfuture where “entertainment juggernaut” Panopticon Global rules the world (I think), and those actors had to die.

That’s when the audience is taken on an guided Alice in Wonderland-like adventure involving riddles, searches, applying for a passport, being blindfolded, and a yoga class with hyper instructors (yes, we did yoga). There isn’t a story, and I’ll be damned if I know what this earnest thing is about—Corporate America? Fascism? There’s even a trial where we vote on the fate of the girl from the future after listening to a lawyer wearing a rat mask—which looked great from the front, but incomplete in the back. Is this an actor playing a rat playing a lawyer? If we’re supposed to be in on the joke, I didn’t get it. We the jury are led to another room where a “guilty” vote was immediately cast—except for one lady, who wanted to know why we voted “guilty” when she couldn’t explain why she voted “not guilty.” We told the Foreman, “It’s a hung jury.” He said, “It doesn’t matter.” Well, if that doesn’t say it all.

Clearly, a lot of effort was put into this endeavor. But the result reminds me of a haunted house I constructed with my friend Scott in his parent’s garage. We were hardcore drama department teens, determined to create an immersive walk-through experience. Planning it well in advance with blueprints and sketches, we were frankly amazed at our inventiveness. But all the great ideas were thwarted by no money and poor execution. Ultimately, our attraction was a bomb, lacking narrative, good acting, quality materials. I knew it and took the whole silly thing in stride. But Scott in all his solemnity was clearly in denial, believing his dead baby was a precious being. Still, we walked deflated guests through a maze which smelled of moldy Christmas ornaments, even blindfolding them at one point: We stuck one hand in Chef Boyardee canned spaghetti (“Feel the dead man’s guts”) and another in a bowl of peeled grapes (“Feel the dead man’s eyes”).

Specific events may occur in a Silver Lining, but it feels shapeless. Ironically, the term “interactive theater” is also amoebic in nature, connoting that audiences can color the experience (I sensed we had no bearing on the outcome here). “Site-specific” theater typically takes place in existing spaces, such as a bar, a graveyard, or a wedding chapel. “Immersive” theater is usually that which is developed in a manufactured environment, such as the hotel for Sleep No More (the news is out that a multi-million dollar theater experience by the same creator, Felix Barrett of the British theater company Punchdrunk, is coming to downtown).

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While Knott’s Scary Farm has been doing it for decades with its mazes, interactive theater is gaining ground nationwide as a way to address dwindling and/or disinterested theatergoers. Live performances are battling with the internet’s popularity: The performing arts need audiences, and audiences are intrigued by the notion of interacting with the production. Could this type of theater, such as Chalk Rep and Moving Arts’s Car Plays, one day electrify L.A.’s perpetually troubled theater scene?

Not at this rate. More often than not, the event’s interesting gimmickry or technological wonders are trumped by bad playwriting and/or mixed acting and a general pretentiousness (both a Working Theater and a Silver Lining have the lower-case “a”). As such, these “events” are rarely thought-provoking and fail to move or touch me emotionally—and I’ve seen dozens and dozens, partly because I want so badly for them to succeed. As with conventional theater, the most successful “events” are those with a strong script and potent performances, such as Off-Broadway’s Here Lies Love and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. As presented in Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, We Players’ Macbeth had some pretty awful acting and sacrificed storytelling for staging, but it was a thrilling environmental tour-de-force nonetheless.

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So as we traipse further into an ever-shifting medium, it appears that most interactive theater is largely an experimental platform for artists. It’s also a commodity used to attract new audiences, just like the proliferation of jukebox musicals and shows with the technical wizardry required to distract from bad writing. In the end, I fear that these forms of drama are like changing outfits on the body of theater so we don’t have to fix what is underneath. I truly hope to one day see a silver lining to all this experimentation.

photos courtesy of a Working Theater

a Silver Lining
a Working Theater
in association with Art Share L.A.
Art Share L.A., 801 E 4th Pl in downtown
Tues – Sun at 7:00 & 8:30 (varying dates)
only 12 tickets sold per performance (free parking)
scheduled to end on November 22, 2014
for tickets, visit Ticket Leap
for more info, visit a Working Theater

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