REVIEW: Memory, Play, and Interactivity in “The Photo Album”

“The Photo Album” by The Story Gym

at The Brick Theater

Review by Sydney Arndt

It’s unfathomable and somehow magical to think about the limitless number of memories that are hidden between the nooks and crannies of the most lived-in New York City homes. When a new tenant settles into her abode in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, she discovers boxes of unlabeled photos. She presumes they were left by prior tenants. What’s more, she requires the help of the audience and the “Layar” application on their smartphones to uncover the mysteries behind the photos. Get ready for a scavenger hunt throughout the theater that invites you to experience lives and stories past through embodied encountering.

This interactive theatrical experience – “show” wouldn’t be the appropriate defining term in this case – is a part of The Brick’s “Game Play Festival.” The Story Gym used the theme of play to their advantage, which connects perfectly with their mission; “Don’t sit. Do.” The audience is invited to partake in the “doing” of the “play” which is the common denominator of immersive theater. When I saw a note on the front of the program instructing me to download the “Layar” application, I became instantly curious about what was to come. After a brief prologue explaining how the new tenant found the old photographs, the fun began. Dozens of photographs littered the table that stood center stage. Some were more ambiguous than others: a close-up of a Twinkie, a hand, a stalled train, an algorithm, and clothing spilling out of dresser drawers to name a few. The game is to pick a photo and scan it with your phone or tablet (facilitators will help you out if you don’t have one). After the photo is scanned, an article of clothing or an accessory will appear followed by a question, phrase, or statement. Next, you have to explore the theater, lobby, and the house for a person wearing the specified piece of clothing and prompt them with the question.

The stories were rich and diverse; distinct on their own, but sometimes connected with another character’s monologue. Among the characters are college roommates, a young newlywed couple, and a four-person family with a delightfully rebellious teenage daughter. However, the relationships between the characters are not necessarily clear, depending on which monologues you end up hearing. But I guess this happenchance supports the underlying question; how much is left to be discovered with only a photograph and one side of the story? Who took the photograph; what were their intentions? Perspectives and individual perceptions of a moment or memory are unique. The unparalleled collection of stories each audience member accrues is also representative of the essence of unique human experience. There are over thirty monologues, and there is only enough time for about half if you hustle!

Should the budget allow, I would love to see The Story Gym take the immersive qualities one step further by producing “The Photo Album” in an actual Ditmas Park house. With that said, the writers, cast, and director, Lisa Reinke, did a superb job in creating a captivating intimacy within the one-on-one interactions between actor and audience member, despite the close quarters of The Brick Theater. While heading home, I couldn’t help but wonder the same questions that opened the piece; “What happened in this old house before me? Were the people happy here? Will I be happy here?”

“The Photo Album” continues for two more performances, July 16th and the 26that The Brick Theater, 579 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn; 866-811-4111, bricktheater.com.

 

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