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Monday, August 29, 2011

The New York Times reviews "The Tenant"


THEATER REVIEW | 'THE TENANT'

Mystery Is Set for a Free-Range Audience

Bring comfortable shoes and a high threshold for frustration to theWoodshed Collective’s sprawling production “The Tenant,” the latest in a proliferating mini-genre of immersive-spookhouse mood pieces.
Emily Fishbaine
The Tenant In the Woodshed Collective's latest, audience members find vignettes in rooms of the West-Park Presbyterian Church. More Photos »
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Emily Fishbaine
Michael Crane in “The Tenant,” in which the landmark building is part of the event. More Photos »
As they are at the higher-profile “Sleep No More,” audience members are set loose on multiple stories of a converted building to construct macabre narratives as they see fit, stumbling onto staged vignettes along the way. But unlike “Sleep,” which supplies mandatory white masks, “The Tenant” (originally a 1964 Roland Topor novel, but better known from Roman Polanski’s 1976 film adaptation) allows lurkers and roamers to stare the performers in the face and vice versa, making the voyeuristic kick a bit more complicated. This also makes scuttling out of any given area more awkward when the scripted proceedings grow mannered or banal, but one manages. (“Why did you let them take the baby?” was about all I heard in one room.)
The audience has free rein to explore five floors of the landmark West-Park Presbyterian Church, on West 86th Street in Manhattan, which the directors, Teddy Bergman and Stephen Brackett, have converted into what’s meant to be a down-at-the-heel Paris apartment building. But “The Tenant” has a clear protagonist in its skittish title character, Trelkovsky (Michael Crane), who unravels psychologically shortly after moving into the unit where a suicide had recently taken place. It’s entirely possible to spend the entire two hours tagging along behind Trelkovsky, and Mr. Crane, who has some of Billy Crudup’s compact, cheekbony intensity, is worth the close attention.
But what’s the fun in following a straight narrative when a dramaturgical scavenger hunt awaits? Something interesting — or at least loud — always seems to be happening just barely within earshot, and it’s not just the creepy background music by Duncan Sheik (“Spring Awakening”) and David Van Tieghem. So off we go, in and around the invitingly banged-up building. (The production designer, Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, has worked wonders within with what appears to be a snug budget.)
Here we find some two dozen actors playing out scenes by six emerging writers. (Bekah Brunstetter and Steven Levenson are joined by Sarah Burgess, Paul Cohen, Dylan Dawson and Tommy Smith.) These scenes range from hypnotic to vapid, with the majority falling in a sort of humdrum middle ground. The action inevitably culminates in the sanctuary itself, after the entire cast has corralled the audience for a finale that is more ambitious than successful.
The stronger moments in “The Tenant,” those that make the case for this labor-intensive form of play making and watching, are those that take place in closer quarters. One inhabitant absent-mindedly bakes macaroons while delivering a monologue about videotaping naked men. A tiny room features a painting of Corduroy the Bear on the wall as well as a sad little checkerboard with bottle caps and eggshell fragments filling in as substitute pieces. A lone tooth sits in a bloody basin in Trelkovsky’s room.
You can’t make a fully successful play out of such eye-catching glimpses alone, or at least Woodshed Collective hasn’t. The more interesting stuff always seemed to be happening somewhere else the night I attended. But maybe I just kept missing it. That’s both the problem and the selling point of “The Tenant.”

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