Street Limbo Blues
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
March 29, 2008
There may come a time when passively watching a theatre performance will seem absurd. You may ask: Why would I want to just sit there and have no control over the action? Still, there is something to be said for watching a story unfold before your eyes. Luckily, you can do either if you decide to check out Cruel Theatre's Street Limbo Blues.
When you arrive you are greeted by the very gracious director of the show, Taurie Kinoshita, who immediately hands you two items; one is a scarf that will identify you as an audience member, the second is a sheet of paper that has your character's name, his/her associates, and your drug of choice. The show begins, rather unapparent, when your new friend finds you sitting sipping coffee in Café Pick Me Up and begins to chat with you as if you've known this person for years. After a short while they invite you to leave the café in search of something else—maybe another friend, maybe drugs or anything that might come to you. You proceed to wander around the East Village, all within a few blocks, talking to your new friend about his/her screwed-up life and why they need the drugs they're after. You meet up with other actor/audience member pairings and the actors bicker about all the skeletons in their respective closets. No one on the street knows that you are a part of this show. They stroll past you, minding their own business, thinking that you are just some weirdos having an argument on the street.
This is a great concept for a show. I found the whole thing empowering because you are both an observer and a participant. I really enjoyed my experience but not everyone will have the same experience. You can choose to get involved, or you can choose to sit back and simply listen to the story and not interact at all. I chose to do just a little bit of both. I wanted to hear the story without manipulating it too much. I played my part but I didn't try to stump my actor with crazy improvisations and that made for an enjoyable blend of interaction and passive observing. I laughed when I thought the actors were funny even though that wouldn't be appropriate in the scene. The drug dealer would have shot me.
The story itself is good but it lacks real punch. There are no moments of real tension or action. There are a lot of typical back stories of hardships and deaths of loved ones but nothing really grabs you and makes you think about addiction and how society handles its drug abusers. Still, due to the immersion format, I felt a somewhat real sense of what it's like to be lost in this street limbo, controlled by an addiction and the desperation that comes with it. And I think that may be the production's goal, so mission accomplished.
Director Taurie Kinoshita does a fine job putting all of her actors on the same page. They are very cohesive in their depictions and manage to come across as people you may know. Jeremy G. Pippin played my friend Mal, a photographer hooked on Oxycodone, with a very natural, easy-going manner. Ebru Yonak plays Violet, our junkie friend who Mal is trying to nail, with jittery indignation. Chris Doi plays our tweaker friend Nelson with constantly wondering eyes. Pippin and Doi are good, but it is Jason Natale, as the all-business drug dealer, who really nails his role. It seemed that I knew this guy and everything that he said I expected him to say.The main appeal of this show is its brilliant form. It's like few other experiences you can have in the theatre and I recommend that you give it a try. If you're shying away from this show because you're afraid to be put on the spot, just remember your level of participation is almost entirely up to you. After this show you may never want to go back to passively watching a play. You may not be able to.