The Pod Project
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 2, 2007
The Pod Project is exceedingly cool. It's an adventure/experiment in theatre-making/theatre-going quite unlike anything I've ever encountered, and believe me, I've encountered a lot. I didn't get all of it, but I had a blast.
The premise is what makes The Pod Project authentically unique. Each audience member sees the show by him/herself. In the lobby, we're each assigned a number from 1 to 13; when the show begins, a tour guide (who will remain silently helpful throughout the performance) will find each of us and gently transport us into the space, moving us from pod to pod, where we experience each of 13 tiny micro-performances one at a time. Each audience member sees all 13 pieces in a different order; each piece is viewed by only one audience member at a time. We're talking theatre as up-close and personal as you've ever seen it.
The pods each contain a surprise, so to give too much away here could make this review a spoiler. You'll meet a variety of eccentric characters, from a woman with several wigs to an old Jewish man who remembers (as he tells you) when theatre was much better than this show. You'll climb up a winding steel staircase into one pod (where you'll be offered some cheese) and you'll descend into another pod that looks like a camper's tent. All 13 of the environments have been rigorously and creatively designed—kudos to Brian MacDevitt, Ilona Somogyi, Jessica Malone, Brian Howard, Darron West, and Matt Hubbs, all of whom have contributed to this extraordinary melange.
The pods are set off from one another by heavy plastic, which means that as we wend our way through the maze that constitutes this show, we can never see what's in store, though we can hear the cacophony of sounds emanating from other pods (everything from a woman's screams to a high soprano note to a bell ringing). I think this is one of the conceptual ideas of The Pod Project—the notion that life on Earth (or in New York City, or wherever) is about connection and disconnection, information and lack of information, mysterious unexplored places and unsettling unlooked-for noise.
The performances are diverse, entertaining, and often astonishing. The program doesn't identify who plays who, so suffice to say that the entire cast is called upon to do a variety of challenging activities, and everybody seems more than equipped to handle it all. One person dances silently, another screams; one reads while rotating in an easy chair, another sleeps. The actors are: Arnie Apostol, Megan Brunsvold, Ryan Corriston, Lily Fischer, Jennifer Gillespie, Keith Johnson, Marc Kenison, Stephanie Liapis, Rick Meese, Bob Moss, Tricia Nelson, Ava Prince, Ariella Richardson, Dr. Jose Souto, Risa Steinberg, Netta Yerushalmy, and Peter Kyle.
Is The Pod Project completely successful? Probably not: the rules of engagement are never explained (a good thing) but are also never entirely clear or consistent (a less good thing). In some of the pods the actors indicate precisely what, if anything, they expect you to do (there is, for example, a dentist, who will ask if he can take a look at your teeth). But some of the more abstract/conceptual pieces in the project leave the audience member entirely in the dark: are we supposed to interact with this character, or just simply observe? I suspect that the individual responses to that question are another point of The Pod Project, but unfortunately that turns the show into an experiment rather than the happening that it otherwise feels like.
Nevertheless, The Pod Project is something that every inquisitive, adventurous theatre-goer should give a whirl. Anybody can put on a play where the audience passively watches stuff happen on a stage. But turning the theatre-goer into an active participant, where there's something new and unexpected and possibly just outside the comfort zone at every turn—that's the stuff that matters, that makes an experience. Creator Nancy Bannon deserves our congratulations and our gratitude. I hope another Pod Project lurks in her future.