Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Suspicious Package

[Reviewed for Show Business Weekly]

“Unique New York” is an excellent tongue twister, but it’s also a great description of Gyda Arber’s Suspicious Package, an interactive “iPod Noir” that puts four audience members on the mean streets of Williamsburg, smack in the middle of a classic (and classy) crime adventure. The audio/visual cues of four synchronized Zune Media Players, one for each “actor,” break through the “fifth wall,” with each audience member playing an easily identifiable role—the showgirl, the producer, the detective, or the heiress. Part camp, part 3D-Clue, the result is a carefully choreographed adventure for four.

Savvy theatergoers may recognize traces of Rotozaza’s audience-performed Etiquette, which used audio cues and props to tell a story in miniature at Veselka, or bits of Accomplice, an interactive walking tour in which participants follow clues from colorful characters to move from location to location in the city. The mobile Zune video allows Suspicious Package to go further: the colorful characters are now black-and-white “film” stars that appear onscreen to provide backstory and motivation, and the recorded cues aren’t restricted to a restaurant table. This allows for a more creative interpretation of each task: how you choose to tail a fellow “cast mate” (or flirt) is entirely up to you. It’s also an enjoyably immersive and anachronistic experience, listening to radio rebroadcasts from the golden age in the broad daylight of modern Metropolitan Avenue.

If there’s any complaint, it’s the brevity of the show: only forty-five minutes long. Still, there’s a lot of original content packed into that—and, because each actor goes their own separate way, plenty of reasons to revisit the show as another character. The videos are well-acted and directed (right down to the credits) in a heartfelt homage to the early years of cinema. Even the wry humor of the detective novel is preserved: “She was like a tarantula on angel’s food cake.”

The raw potential for putting fans into films and taking the powerful illusions of theater off the stage and into the street is far from fully realized, but it’s an enjoyable alternative way to experience a play. I guess it’s true: good things come in small, suspicious packages.

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