nytheatre.com review by Daniel Kelley
June 7, 2008
Interactive theatre can be a tough sell. After all, you're asking an audience that's used to being passive to sit up and take an active role in a show they may or may not know anything about, be open to, or like. Luckily, with the welcoming and personal touch of creator Gyda Arber, and the comfortable atmosphere she and her collaborators create in Suspicious Package, interactive theatre has never been so much fun. Not only are you, the audience, taking part in the show—you are the show. There are only four audience members, each taking a role, and if there is no audience, there is literally no show. That's why you need to rush out right now and buy tickets. If you have three friends and 45 minutes free on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, there's no reason not to.
As far as its content, Suspicious Package is a unique blend of old and new. On the one hand, it's your archetypal noir mystery, with plenty of fedoras, interior monologues, and all the double- and triple-crossing you could ask for. On the other hand, it's a part of the "Web 2.0" culture of interactivity. It takes place for your eyes and ears only on the sleek Microsoft Zune (Microsoft's response to the iPod), and directs you around the neighborhood of the Brick Theatre—down the street, and inside local businesses. Anyone and everyone can be in on this play, the questions is: who?
It all starts before you even get to the theatre. When purchasing tickets, you are asked to choose your character. There are four classic noir types to choose from: the detective, the producer, the heiress, and the showgirl. Choose wisely, as each character is a show unto itself.
Once you arrive at the theatre, you are given your character's costume piece and prop. The creators of Suspicious Package then ask each of the audience members questions about themselves, and how they may or may not be like their character—to get them into the show, and as a sort of an ice-breaker. This could easily turn awkward or forced, but the warmth of the people involved keeps the atmosphere informal and fun as you prepare for the show. As the whole show revolves around the audience being comfortable with each other and really engaging with the story and each other, this intro is especially necessary and important.
Following this, you are given your own Microsoft Zune, brought outside of the theatre, and told to listen for directions. Thus, the play begins. You are shown destinations on your Zune, and a map of how to get there. As you walk, you hear your character's inner monologue, and the story unfolds. Once you reach your destination, you spend some time reminiscing, in the form of videos played on the Zune. Should you find yourself face-to-face with another character/audience member, don't worry—your dialogue lines will appear on the screen. Writers Gyda Arber, Wendy Coyle and Jason Godbey should be commended for the dialogue—it hits exactly the right tone, as though it came right out of The Maltese Falcon. The general feeling among the audience/performers will mostly dictate the question of how much you need to "perform" the dialogue, and whether you decide to "get into character" or just joke around with it. For the show I took part in, we had a healthy balance of both, which made for a great time.
After the show, you end up at a restaurant near the Brick Theatre, where Gyda Arber and Co. buy you a drink, and talk to you a little bit about the show. Even given the intimacy of most off-off Broadway spaces, it is rare that a theatre experience feels so personal—like playing a party game with old friends, even though 45 minutes ago you didn't even know these people. It's a unique and engaging piece, and shouldn't be missed.