by MICHAEL J. OPPERMAN
This Is A World To Live In drops the audience without net into a peculiar hybrid of event, installation and performance. Even the ushering of the attendees into the space is performative. A concierge of sorts in a white t-shirt and suspenders surveys the waiting crowd and selects people by twos and threes to enter, suggesting exclusivity and immediately denaturalizing the ‘play’ experience.
The production evokes a certain construction of the history of Andy Warhol’s Factory (if a bit more PG). A tin-foil garden is a nod to Billy Name’s silver paint and Warhol’s silver balloons. An epauletted (and shirtless) guitarist likely represents the ubiquitous presence of musicians. The ensemble develops a series of identifiable tropes and situations, and involves the audience in co-creation of the ‘play.’
Even stage itself adds to the meta-ness. This Is A World To Live In temporarily lives in an unused 22,000 square foot retail space in City Center. All performances are artifacts of time, events of the present moment when so much is recorded, prerecorded and streamed. But even the space, in this case, is an artifact of time, soon to be used for something else – inevitably for something at artistic and experiential odds with the Sandbox Theatre production.
The performances and the cumulative experience are uneven. The beginning of the interactions is like a colt taking its first ungainly steps. For a production that is dependent upon the energy of the audience so directly, this is probably to be expected. There is a learning curve for the attendees. Unlike most performances that would be called ‘plays,’ the rules of engagement are not immediately clear to the audience. Are we watching or participating, or both? Is it scripted or improvisational? Are my actions impacting the path of the performance? And simply, what is this?
For a surprisingly long time, the audience is able to explore areas of the space – to have pictures taken, to paint on the walls, to watch video or listen to the guitarist. It is as strange as it sounds. Gradually a binding narrative emerges, the relationships between the characters solidify, and the underlying raison d’être becomes clearer. But the actors and the experience refuse to provide an easy definition of This Is A World To Live In.
There are moments of surprise and magic, including the arrival of an opera diva in formal sequined gown and garish white make-up (you’ll have to go to see what I mean). There are also stretches of leaden interactions that are too self-consciousness, too maudlin, or too incoherent. One could argue that these are the best representations of Warhol’s Factory.
This Is A World To Live In is a curious and unexpected production, ambitious and imperfect. I can guarantee that it’s improbable that you’ll see anything like it anytime soon.
This Is A World To Live In. Presented by Sandbox Theatre, October 18-November 16. Information at www.sandboxtheatreonline.com.
Led by Matthew Glover
Directed by Ryan Hill
Assistant Director Andrew Dolan
Stage Manager Lisa Day
Research Assistant Evie Digirolamo
Photography by Richard Fleischman
Media Assist by Danielle Siver
Sandbox Magazine Led by Jodi Trotta
Contributing Artist Crist Ballas
Contributing Artist Beth Bowman
An ensemble-created play featuring:
Megan Campbell Lagas
Derek Lee Miller