Site-specific play allures, yet doesn’t sustain the mystery
by: Rudy Gerson
Crashbox Theatre’s latest creation Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) begins with a unique premise. The play is held in a legitimate residential building, in a similarly legitimate studio apartment, and only once your ticket is purchased (done only in advance) will you receive an email revealing the location of the event.
As it goes: the party starts with the invitation.
The email from Crashbox informs observers where the observation of the experiment will take place — the home of the ‘volunteer test subjects.’ Arriving to the nondescript building, the invite describes a ‘representative’ who will be ‘stationed’ outside. He greets you, checks your name off the list, and leads you into the building. After navigating the lengthy, high-ceilinged hallway, you are sufficiently disoriented. The building is quiet — too quiet.
The build-up is eerie, and I expectated the spooky to continue into the night. Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) succeeds at creating a mystery. People looking for a unique theater going experience will be delighted at the unusual packaging of the production, thanks to Joel Soren’s production design.
In the end, however, the preshow aesthetic built an expectation that was not met in the play itself. Rather than continue to cast the audience in the show, as the invitation so initates, the play felt too familiar, too underwhelming.
The playwright Colby Day casts recognizable tropes: girlfriend Simone and boyfriend Brian are on the fritz. They’re relationship is stale, and their schedules never align. He works the night shift; she works the day. They also need money.
Enter Scientist, played by Rachel Lin, who leads a study charged with observing couples in their ‘natural habitat,’ so as to eliminate the biases of scientific observation in the setting of a research laboratory.
Dialogue isn’t punchy nor familiar, and the action assumed to happen outside the apartment is hard to follow. Days pass without clarity. Beginning, middle and end blend into one, as the plans Simone or Brian make are forgotten. Questions about where Scientist sleeps or even her motivation for remaining so professional in the face of desperation, remain a mystery and not an alluring one.
She repeats lines about the need to ignore her and pretend she doesn’t exist with robotic regularity. Her surprising outburst by the play’s end felt unearned, as did the play’s brief scene of nudity.
Brian, played by Matthew K. Davis, succeeds at loading his early morning arrivals with the exhaustion of a full night of work and the need to negotiate his frought relationship, but when he reveals his suicidal tendencies, Scientist remains stoic.
Lena Hudsos Simone not-so-subtely fakes a phone conversation to open up about Brian’s deficiencies, yet Scientist again sits still. Her note taking becomes predictable, and I found myself searching for a motivation beyond her commitment to her academic research. When raw humanity smacks her in the face, she neither cracks a smile nor sheds a tear.
The play could have investigated the ethical complexity of academic research — how ethnographic observation always produces biases and the impossibility of pure social science. It could have gone metareferential and explored the role of the audience in the viewing of a play. But to my disappointment, characters remained shallow.
In short, the stakes of either the couple’s relationship or the academic study were raised to a level that asked me to care. Direction by Andrew J. Scoville crafts physical activities intended to fill the many silences called for in the text, but I would be remiss to not explicity mention the apparent influence of Annie Baker’s John. Scoville communicates passing time through light — shifting sunsets and sunrises outside the apartment’s window — and by the clock above Scientist’s head, who spins the minute hand as the governor of time itself.
Given the lack of any nod to John, it feels questionable to this reviewer that the source of these shrewd techniques came from a play that premiered this season. In the end, I would keep an eye on Crashbox. Despite the play’s text, the company nevertheless takes risks with the youthful energy needed to innovate theater for the contemporary viewer.
Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) runs until November 6. Tickets can be reserved at crashboxtickets.com