Well, folks. I’m pretty sure I’ve found the Fringiest show at the Fringe. Artists and fans hip to the development of interactive theater should make plans to check out cloudism, a show that while not ultimately a success, has struck upon some very interesting techniques.
The cloudism audience gathers outside the door of The Shop under the Fort Fringe tent. A Guide (Graham Pilato) leads groups of three or four into the theatre in an awkward bit of interaction meant (I think) to spoof the relationship between audience and theatre staff.
And right here, the mistakes start piling up. I understand that the act of leading the audience into the theater in small groups is meant to ensure that each audience member gets his or her share of interaction with Pilato’s character, but the experience isn’t essential enough to the rest of the night’s proceedings to merit the interminable wait some folks experienced. Making people stand around in 90 degree heat amounted to an unintentional act of agression against the audience, which is in direct conflict with most of the night’s proceedings.
Once inside the space, the audience is left to their own devices, with the ensemble pre-set in various abstract poses or engaged in basic dance moves. Two women (Mo O’Rourke and Alison Talvacchio, clearly having fun) play mirror games in the bleachers. A woman (Allison Clapp Feuentes) sits on a raised platform muttering a repeated series of numbers. A masked man in all white (Mike Maggio, obtensibly the “writer” of the piece) stands motionless in a hula hoop. A television sits in a corner, blaring irritating static. I want to run screaming from the theatre. My BS-meter is hitting critical and oh, God, someone turn off that television.
Basic audience interactions begin. The young women on the bleachers begin tossing balls around the space, and handing them to audience members seemingly to find out what we’ll do with the opportunity. The television is still blaring static. Pilato reenters, and begins handing audience members pens and encourages us to write all over Maggio. I happened to be the second pen recipient. I gave Maggio a felt-tip manicure, and sat down thinking myself ever so clever.
And that’s when it starts to dawn on me what cloudism is up to, and my BS-meter drops a bit, but that television is still blaring and won’t somebody please turn it off?
Pilato hands a young woman a cello and a bow. Oh, here we go, I think to myself, we’ll all laugh as she struggles with the instrument. But, ah! We’ve been tricked. This is Tina Hughes, and she’s a pro. The live music is an inspired idea. But that hated demon television is still there grinding its nails against the chalkboard of my soul.
“Plot” spoilers will end here.
Steadily, the audience starts to fall into the rhythm of the piece and audience-led acts of experimentation with the space grow in number and whimsy.
It suddenly dawns on me what cloudism has accomplished here, perhaps by accident. They have successfully reproduced and abstracted the experience of early childhood education.Through gesture, facial expression, and play, the ensemble encourages the audience to join in the onstage antics. The secret weapon here is O’Rourke, blessed with giant anime eyes and one of the world’s more expressive faces. She dives right into this nonsense with an open heart and an ingratiating smile.
This all built to an incredible sight: full grown adults silently, naturally, and joyfully frolicking around the floor of The Shop. I personally witnessed two grown men, apparently strangers to each other, rolling around the floor, batting a bright red ball back and forth at each other like the world’s happiest kittens. cloudism triumphs when it engenders sudden flashbacks to childhood and that forgotten sensation of wonder at the possibilities inherent in all these strange new objects. Oh, so that long stick with the handle? It grows and expands into a big circle? You can use it to stop rain AND catch shiny balls? Brilliant! It was impossible not to track a smile, and I felt like such a fuddy-duddy sitting in the bleachers being all critical.
But then dread narrative strikes and the whole thing grinds to a halt. cloudism is at its weakest when attempting any form of narrative. I won’t describe the specifics, but it’s a bad sign when audience members are turning to each other and asking “uh, so it’s over?” Maggio and the rest of his cloudism team have made a remarkable discovery, but they’ve packaged it in half-baked abstraction, some lame philosophy, and pretensions to high art.
To heck with high art! I just want to roll around and play with some toys.
So nice try and back to the drawing board, cloudism. I sincerely hope to see them next year. But first things, first: somebody throw that television off a cliff.
You have 4 more chances to tap into your inner kitten with cloudism at The Shop – Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue, Washington, DC.
Ryan rates this 3 out of 5
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[For those who recall past DCTS Fringe crews, the much complimented Mo’ O’Rourke here is none other than Maureen O’Rourke.]