by Monica Charline Brown
Surely you have noticed we are living in a world where shock value dominates our culture. Personal lives coalesce with professional lives, and heaven forbid we should bring up those three forbidden topics in casual conversation: politics, religion, and money! In a world where social media keeps us all in the know, with eyes goggling at an electronic screen, we naturally crave the next alarm to share. Time has evolved into an unremitting search for the greatest elation, the severest repulsion, the deepest disgust, the most profound awe.
IATI, or the International Theater Arts Institute (Instituto Arte Teatral Internacional, Inc), sets out to tackle this social phenomenon in its latest production, Storage Locker. Director Julián Mesri brings to light in a program note that theater was the original ends to a means for these hankerings for diversion. Because so much is now accessible at our fingertips from myriad sources, we tend to forget simplicity lies in art imitating life. We are drawn as a species to things we can relate to on some level. Jeff Stolzer, the play’s author, cites reality show Storage War$ as his inspiration. On the TV program, participants bid on abandoned (unpaid) storage units, unlocking caverns of mysterious and unknown lives, and ultimately ascertain if the heaps (of mostly garbage) have any tangible value.
Storage Locker is a product of IATI’s Cimientos play development program. Championing Latin American, contemporary, and avant-garde works as vehicles to raise awareness, this dark comedy is no exception to their mission statement.
The premise closely follows the Storage War$ structure. A thirty-something married couple wins a storage locker at an auction. While the husband touts his intuition for throwing his money around, the wife is at her wit’s end, fearing he has overspent. Then an older man is revealed lurking around as the couple strategizes to escape their predicament. The mysterious gentleman turns out to be a spinner of tall tales, claiming to have invented a formula used for numerically determining lockers of value. Banter befits banter, and we find out all of the old man’s lies are part of a desperate attempt to repossess his original unit, now in the couple’s hands. Without spoiling the ending, a science fiction element bares the multi-dimensional aspect of the production.
Speaking of Storage Locker’s final moments, Warren Stiles’ scenic design really allows the conclusion to come alive. His set highlights a parallel universe, defying time and space, and features a living room with a camcorder set-up, filming the other half of the stage, which is the physical storage locker. Fabian Zarta’s video production adds to the successful convention as the camcorder records intimate conversations, where actors talk with their backs to us, while allowing us to see faces via the TV screen. In the same breath, it took the completion of the play for me to stop questioning the reality of where people were on set. The ending clearly illuminates the intention, but I wonder if there could have been a way to establish the style earlier on. However, the lighting design, precisely executed by Miguel Valderrama, splashes vibrant color and premeditated shadow, therefore helping blur reality and heighten stakes. Significant contributions to the effect were the piece’s original score, composed by Julián Mesri. Featuring excerpts from Janacek string quartets 1 and 2, it sounded like video game music married with Mozart in the Jungle, which was quite entertaining.
Julián Mesri’s direction pieces together the puzzle of juggling alternate universes beautifully in order to bring obsession and greed typically associated with materialism and power to the forefront. So much so that the audience is forced to literally question what is real and what is the play’s truth on numerous levels. It seems the takeaway message is how desperate we are to find newfangled ways to obtain wealth with a minimum of effort.
The three-actor-ensemble exhibits an extraordinary chemistry and a palpable intensity that inherently makes the play work. Nicole Betancourt captures the essence of a fed-up wife with sass, wit, and fire, making the moment when she is buying into the scheme all the more interesting. Bryn Packard is a nice foil to Nicole, pulling off a dim-witted charm we can’t help but root for. Last but not least, David Crommett craftily toys with mystery, guilt, pity, and thrill, drawing us in by concocting a character we aren’t quite sure about.
Combined with a snippy run time of 70 minutes and just-right pacing, the attention span of the audience is captured. Take my word for it, but you will have to venture to East Village’s Fourth Arts Block to discover the cryptic finale for yourself. No spoilers here.
Storage Locker. Through Sunday, October 30 at IATI Theater (64 East 4th Street between Bowery and Second Avenue). Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm. www.iatitheater.org.
Photos: Jonathan Slaff