Thursday, July 16, 2009

Suspicious Package: Rx (The Brick Theater)

By Dan

interactive theatre/walking tour/video game • great for teenagers, dates, and small groups • great for the summer-you aren’t stuck inside on a nice afternoon • for anyone and everyone (except perhaps the extremely self-conscious) • GO!

BOTTOM LINE: HIGHLY recommended for everyone; if you can follow instructions, you’ll have a great time.

Describing something as “Interactive Theatre” might seem off-putting to some, evoking images of audience participation in which you might be brought on stage and made to do silly things, or else a kind of cheesy feel-good experience in which everyone claps along in time to music. But as someone who does not like most kinds of audience participation, to the point where I refuse to clap in time when certain musicals ask the audience to do so, Suspicious Package: Rx is a different kind of interactive theatre.

Suspicious Package: Rx has a cast of 6, and ALL are audience members. But don’t aren’t “performing” for anyone else; rather, you “experience” this show rather than simply watch it. The experience begins at the Brick Theater, where Creator/Director Gyda Arber meets with the group of six people. Everyone is assigned a role (Colonel, Chemist, Secretary, Computer Whiz, Doctor, Executive) and gets a costume piece. Arber has everyone introduce themselves, and asks each one a question designed to get you into character. I was the Computer Whiz, and she asked me to talk about any ways in which I was nerdy (of course I had many to choose from!)

Then Arber gives everyone a Zune Media Player (its like a video iPod) to guide you through the experience. Periodically, you receive instructions about where to go and what to do (“Facing the Brick theatre, turn to your left and walk up the stairs ahead of you”). Interspersed with this are video flashbacks that fill in your backstory, and audio “inner dialogue” that tells you about what “you” are thinking. At times, you will wind up in the same location as one or more of the other participants, and you’ll be given lines to read (this is the theatre aspect).

The key thing is that each person’s experience is different. The media players are coordinated; you might walk away from someone else in the group, only to meet up with them at some point later on, and have a scene together. Then you might leave and go somewhere else, and speak with another character. As the experience goes on, you learn more about the story and the characters. (Without giving too much away, Suspicious Package: Rx is a sci-fi dystopia, set in 1960's Williamsburg, with survivors of a recent plague taking an antidepressant drug.)

I had a terrific time at Suspicious Package: Rx, as did my friend (who normally does not like theatre, especially on a beautiful summer afternoon). We enjoyed the experience of walking around, following the directions, and then all of a sudden talking to another character. And because we didn’t know much about the plot, we also had to work to piece together the different pieces of the story, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. All was clear by the end, but I would definitely return again to experience a different character (you get to choose your character when you reserve).

Do I have any criticisms? The acting and costumes in the video footage was fairly amateur, although this didn’t matter at all. And the more amateur look kind of fits in with the entire experience, since the “cast” of each show is of course decidedly amateur. And there were a couple times when I anticipated some directions. For instance, I was told to walk to an establishment. I walked there, went inside and sat down. I watched some video footage, and then heard the instructions “go inside and sit down”- turns out I had entered and watched a dialogue I wasn’t really supposed to have seen. It didn’t ruin anything, and these slight deviations from the script are a part of any piece of live theatre. But I’d advise following the directions as closely as possible. And keep in mind that not knowing what is going on is part of the experience.

Note- if you’re extremely self-conscious, you might feel a bit strange. You wear a small costume piece throughout the show, and occasionally have conversations with other people in public places that might seem weird to those who aren’t part of the experience. Of course, this is NY, so most people walking the streets of Williamsburg won’t bat an eye. At the end, the table next to us started listening in on our conversation. Turns out they had finished the experience an hour earlier. But of course, we didn’t know that at the time, so it suddenly felt like we had a real audience.

I highly recommend Suspicious Package: Rx. While it isn’t scheduled to run much longer, Arber told me they were thinking of extending the show. She also said she would do it by appointment, so if you have a group of six people, you can probably arrange a time with her. If you have a group of 4 people, ask Arber about the original Suspicious Package, which has a film noir theme. If you’re looking for something fun to do this weekend, definitely check it out.

(Suspicious Package: RX plays at the Brick Theater, 575 Metropolitan Avenue, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. ½ a block from the Lorimer stop of the L train. All tickets $20, including a post-show beverage. Reservations Required. The entire experience runs about an hour. Tickets available through (212-352-3101 or 1-866-811-4111). For more information visit Right now, you can only buy tickets for July 18th, 19th and 25th, but you might be able to arrange additional experiences by contacting Gyda Arber directly:

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