nytheatre.com review by Rachel Merrill Moss
August 22, 2011
Greasy landlords and crumbling ceilings are surely commonplace to most New York City dwellers, as are noisy and nosy neighbors. But spending about two hours with the fascinatingly seedy Parisian inhabitants in the Woodshed Collective’s The Tenant, an installation piece currently taking place at the West-Park Presbyterian Church, may be enough to put anyone off apartment prying for quite some time.
Based on Roland Topor’s 1964 novella (also adapted into a film by Roman Polanski in 1976), this eerie dweller’s tale loosely follows the life of new tenant, Trelkovsky, who benefits from the previous one's suicide, conveniently timed around his imminent need for new residence. All too soon, though, Trelkovsky comes to find that his apparent luck might be just the opposite; his cursed apartment (and fellow tenants) may just be driving him to a similar end. Though the audience is let loose to act as voyeuristic spectral spectators, looming over whatever action draws their attention, six critical moments in Trelkovsky's life are projected across all rooms, on televisions and loudspeakers, to be sure the audience at least has so many shared moments and understandings regarding Trelkovsky’s sure plummet into the abyss of strangeness the apartment building seems to be. With the exception of these moments, though, the building offers free reign for audience roaming, everyone is allowed their own unique snooping and eavesdropping. Snatches of conversation and debate can be overheard around every corner, with subject matter ranging from superstitions to immigration to fecal-related desecration, but always turning darker than expected.
The Woodshed Collective has amazingly transformed the innards of the vast West-Park Presbyterian Church into a sprawling Parisian apartment complex, complete with a bar, courtyard, wig shop and scores of sumptuously designed apartments, each weirder and more telling of its inhabitant's flaws than the previous. The freedom to explore the vast and lush indoor landscape is exciting and fun, but also somewhat challenging, being drawn to both action and aesthetic and often being forced to choose. Truly, the only really lamentable aspect of this darkly beautiful production is the physical inability to be in all parts of the building at once, peeping in on all the little domestic foibles and toilings that unfold throughout simultaneously. While The Tenant is not meant for those desirous of an "easy-going" theatre experience, it certainly offers just rewards to the adventurous.
Part of the joy of this production, too, is the ease with which it is possible to observe others observing the various performances, as well as other's reactions and comfort levels in the increasingly tense rooms and corridors. This allowance (and perhaps intent) to acknowledge a shared experience is so seldom part of theatrical practice and adds another layer of richness to this spectacular layer cake.
The large cast, who seem to continue to keep emerging from doorways and dark rooms, all operate independently, performing, often, to empty rooms or moving bodies. Directors Stephen Brackett and Teddy Bergman have ably and commendably allowed the cast a way to truly seem right at home, and it is the ease with which this talented bunch of actors perform their roles in non-traditional circumstances that makes them so enjoyable to watch.
Indeed, The Tenant is a veritable choose-you-own-adventure of a theatrical experience and one not to be missed if you have the feet, and stomach, for it. Of course having a practiced, peeking, eager eye won’t hurt either.