Got a chance to see Off-Leash Area’s new show on Friday. If you read this and think “Damn, that sounds amazing. Why was Laura so delayed with her insightful review?” never fear. Not only do they have shows this upcoming weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but they’ve added more shows! Friday and Saturday, November 9th and 10th.
Off-Leash area is very difficult to sell to your friends. Every time I want to go to a show, I find myself in the position of persuading people to come with me. Maybe it’s me, but the conversations tend to always go something like this:
Laura: Want to come to a play with me?
Dubious Friend: What kind of play?
Laura: It’s this small, amazing theater company. The show is in a garage!
DF: A garage?
Laura: Yeah, the people who run the company and act in the shows. It’s their garage! Isn’t that cool?
DF: A garage? Like, a real garage?
Laura: Well, it’s converted. For the shows. It’s small, like 35 seats? Anyway, these people are so cool. It’s very moment based, you know, like the Jacques Lecoq school? They create the shows themselves, there’s not a lot of dialogue, but it’s really beautiful —
(Distinct gleam of panic emerges in friend’s eye)
DF: Not much dialogue? Huh. Well, what’s this show about?
Laura: Well, I think this show is really a critque of capitalism, actually — It’s about aliens —
(Panic has become full-fledged now)
DF: I think I have a thing that night.
Laura: I didn’t say what night it was!
DF: I just have a thing. I have to go.
Whenever I describe the shows, my description comes out really pretentious. I’m sure people start to envision that scene in “The Big Lebowski” where his landlord drags him to his “performance piece” in a empty theater. But Off-Leash area, as they themselves point out in the program, couldn’t be less pretenious. The show is in their garage, not because they want to make a statement about our mechanized world, but because it’s a cute little space and they’re a small organization.
In fact, I’m not sure myself how they manage to make their garage such a lovely and comforting little space. But somehow they do. As the little girl in front of me said, scornfully, “It doesn’t look very much like a garage.” It feels like some special theatrical clubhouse you’ve stumbled upon.
“A Gift For Planet BX63” is very much like a Dr. Suess book come to life. It’s the tale — narrated by “The Universe” who sits snuggly up in a corner — of a girl who lives all alone on a small planet. One day, a salesman arrives, and make a pitch (in rhyme). The girl buys a flower, only to realize that she has to keep buying “plant food” to keep it alive. Soon, all her efforts are directed towards purchasing new products, and this “gift” eventually teaches about her about mortality, greed, and, well, the lures and pitfalls of capitalism.
Cheerful, eh? No; like the best fairy-tales and allegories, it’s dark and deceptively straightforward. But I will say, that in the small, tiny “garage” there were little kids, people my age, and older folks, and we were all entertained.
An obsessively verbal person, I feel strange saying this, but my main critique was that I felt the narration could go: “the Universe” (though played by a very pretty actress with a beautiful fairy-princess dress and face-sparkles that made me want be seven and be her for Halloween) struck me as unnecessary. The two main actors are so expressive and committed in their movements that we would have gotten the whole story from their interaction. In fact, some of the best moments are the quiet moments when both are onstage: when the “Girl” realizes (quite silently, we get it all from her eyes) that her flower has died, and the Salesman (in a rare moment of empathy) says: “Did you think it would never die?” You feel like you just realized, for the first time, that the people you love are going to die on you someday and how inevitable and awful that is. And it’s just from the Girl’s expression.
As for Paul Herwig’s peformance, as the salesman, I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone who convinced me so utterly that they were from another world: everything about the way he moved and talked and interacted felt human and alien at the same time.
Am I sounding pretentious again? Damnit.
Well, if nothing else, remember this: afterwards, they have a bonfire and wine and beer and snacks. I think people get scared off by my descriptions because they think that theater — particularly new theater, or theater that isn’t conventional — is about exclusion, about needing to be hip or deep or intellectual enough to “get” it. But Off-Leash area, like all good theater, is about connection and empathy and beauty and accesibility. And how crazy is it to be two feet away from someone doing cool stuff right in front of you!