Choose Your Own Play
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
August 11, 2008
Choose Your Own Play has a grand concept: the audience chooses how the story unfolds. The action centers around the main character, You, who represents the audience. We are led by the M.C., who periodically stops the action to poll the audience as to what happens next in the story. Over the course of the evening, the short play is redone three times, allowing us to see variations in the plot and resolution.
The atmosphere of the production is quite informal, and everything is played for fun. There are some humorous running gags, and many of the plot threads are imaginative. The writers have set up an enjoyable convention and reward the audience for making choices with creative (sometimes trippy) storylines that blur the line between reality and fantasy (examples, a trip to "Booktopia" or traveling back in time to high school in a Breakfast Club parody).
The overall direction of the play is so sloppy and the tone of the script becomes so bizarre, however, that the novelty of the audience's participation is diluted. Overall, there's not enough at stake. We're curious to see a plot veer in one direction or the other (does the main character answer the phone or door?), but there is not enough of an emotional connection to the differing outcomes.
The presentation has some shortcomings: there are some props and costuming, but other objects are mimed; actors speak their lines but then mumble asides and appear to break character; in some instances when the audience decides on one of two plot choices the resulting choice is obvious (example, whether to meet someone through Match.com or make an online bid on eBay).
Some aspects of the production do work nicely. The creators have varied the audience's decisions from inconsequential details to critical plot points. Sometimes the audience is cleverly misled to believe a vote is upcoming, but the play merely proceeds on course. There are also some funny winks to the audience when the actors address the limitations of the space or the clumsiness of making major shifts in the play's narrative.
The funny young cast hails from Houston, and for the most part they play the material extremely big. Jared Doreck, however, is grounded and sincere as the well-meaning protagonist (You). He invests himself genuinely in all plot threads, ridiculous as they are. Caleb George smartly takes his comedy seriously and succeeds in numerous roles. Matt Lusk also has some funny moments. Timmy Wood as the M.C. is energized and witty, but would serve the production better by running a tighter ship, from handling the bell smoothly to clearly prompting the audience to vote on a plot point only once each time.
There is definite promise in the unorthodox format of this production. The clever conceit to marry improv with a scripted play will benefit from future productions as the script and direction are refined.