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A CurtainUp Review
The Object Lesson
Whatever our obsession or compulsion is for saving things — call them memorabilia if you have a romantic streak — it can also be an subconscious way to define yourself with things. Hoarding, as an example, is also considered to be the gravely neurotic condition that afflicted the famed Collyer brothers whose long dead bodies were discovered in 1947 among piles of garbage and a maze of floor to ceiling, wall to wall disintegrating detritus with which they filled their stealthily boarded-up Harlem apartment.
On a lighter note, entertainer Geoff Sobelle shares with the audience at the New York Theatre Workshop the contents within a mythic storage facility or more precisely a scenic installation created by Steven Dufala that is as awesome in its interior as it is in its extremities. Happily, Sobelle knows his way in and around, up and down, over and under the myriad of boxes, crates, containers, and ratty furnishings and stuff and even stuffing (literally) that sparks his character's semi-introspective narrative-propelled journey.
The audience, however, must fend for itself. Easy enough as we gaze and meander about to find a suitable box or object without sharp corners to rest upon. My companion and I actually found a rather comfy old sofa with its stuffing intact to sit upon. Atop a pile of old books next to me was The Sacred Book of the Werewolf. I was so tempted to steal it. . .I didn't.
The audience is encouraged to open and explore the contents of any of the boxes. The climbing of the walls is left to Sobelle though on occasion he requests a helping hand as he goes after specific items.
The lighting is dim throughout what might have been called "a happening" in the 1960s but is now more popularly referred to now as an "immersive experience." Under the guidance of director David Neumann, Sobelle gets our attention easily enough as he moves to the center of the room, lighting a floor lamp and then a table lamp.
Bare-footed but wearing a suit, Sobelle is personable. He appears relaxed even though he's as perplexed by his own stream of consciousness as we are. He relaxes initially on a musty chair to begin a narrative that is what I can only describe as a kind of drift into existential minimalism, certainly Beckettian in its rambling specificity. We don't ask but listen.
The narrative includes an occasional chat on a phone pulled out of nowhere or from somewhere that confirms his need to recover and reflect on his past — including memories of old flames in his younger days in Paris and San Francisco. Our interest in him builds as his own often seemingly disjointed but soon enough reconnected memories are discovered, often on-high sections of the room. Audience members are recruited to participate in reading from a letter or journal he finds in an unlikely crevice.
Getting a coherent drift of his character — a loner trying to pull together significant pieces and comforting objects from his past — is not an easy task, but we are committed by our sheer curiosity about what may come next. The character we watch often stalls in his speech as waits for his next impulse to move on, much like the signals from the large traffic light that he unearths and plugs in. As with his journey, we watch the traffic light go from green to gold to red in, I suspect, real time. Not exactly boring but certainly testy in its progression, his unhurried narrative gets some nice bumps with an unexpected discovery. I'm happy to reveal that Sobelle does not attempt to climb into the canoe that was suspended from the rafters.
There is humor you might call the play's coup de theatre, as when he finds a woman among the audience willing to rekindle a lost romance. I won't spoil anything by saying that a pair of ice skates, a bit of table-top dancing, a dinner with chopped salad, a bottle of wine and falling snow serve him in an unexpectedly sweet divertissement.
As someone who recently had to go through and discard a life-time of questionable minutia and once cherished collectibles, I can see how easy it is to say this is not crap at all but the summation of a life. Is that all there is? You should let the talented Geoff Sobelle speak for himself.
Editor's Note. For anyone concerned that the elimination of conventional seating and being right in the set comes at the cost of comfort there are, as Simon noted, some seats with pillows and backs. However, since the audience members are free to stand and move around this didn't seem to be a deterrent to anyone's enjoyment.
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The Object Lesson by Geoff Sobelle
Directed by David Neumann
Cast: Geoff Sobelle
Scenic Installation: Steven Dufala
Sound: Nick Kourtides
Lights: Chris Kuhl
Production Stage Manager: Lisa McGinn
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street
Performances: Sold Out
From 01/31/17 Opened 02/09/17 Ends 03/05/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/07/17
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