Review by Sonia Roberts
It’s 8:04pm on a Monday night, and a payphone rings on the corner of Water Street and Old Slip. It’s Rhonda Cadwallader from Empire Travel Agency, and she’s calling for us – myself and three other audience members (including a couple celebrating their anniversary) who signed a travel waiver assuming the risk of injury, illness, or death by participating in the production. We’re given directions to our next destination, are met by Dr. Hans Bidity, who takes us up into the Elevated Acre and sits us down for a story underscored by a trio of musicians called The Avant Guardesmen and offers us an aperitif in mysterious vials. But he never finishes his story, as a commotion interrupts him and all of a sudden, the band members are on the ground and frothing at the mouth.
This is just the beginning of Woodshed Collective’s two-and-a-half hour journey in and out of two different cars, an art gallery, the subway, and several floors of a seemingly abandoned building, where 25 different characters guide us on our accidental entanglement with a drug called ambrose (which sounds like a combination of steroids and ecstasy, but with no side effects), dangerously close to changing New York City forever. Some we get to know better than others, like Betsy, who drives us to the art gallery after we escape from Frank and Gary’s car and tells us about her estrangement from her artist mother (an excellent Havilah Brewster). Others simply meet us to give us the next clue or code to get us to the next location, but often with flair (flames, riddles, too-short pants, jokes about Canadians).
The action unfolds at a fast pace and high energy, but the narrative is often compromised. Apart from the first few scenes, we spend little time with the majority of the characters, and by the time we arrive at the long-awaited auction where the in-demand ambrose recipe awaits us, it seems as though my group missed several crucial plot points. Though story takes a backseat to adventure in Empire Travel Agency, the adventure is worth it. Tickets have been sold out for weeks, but follow the group’s Facebook page where they announce last-minute openings for the chance to explore the city from a new perspective (with three other people as game as you to down a mysterious vial of fruity vodka cocktail and hop into a car with a stranger).
Empire Travel Agency
Conceived and Designed by Woodshed Collective
Text by Jason Gray Platt
Directed by Teddy Bergman
Through September 27 – www.empiretravelagency.com