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Faye Driscoll’s 'Play' is Mad Libs for the experimental theater world

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Choreographer Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Play asks questions about language, narrative, and interactivity. Answers aren’t always forthcoming, but this is one of those shows that’s all about the journey.

It’s the second installment of this year’s Out There series at the Walker Art Center, and the second part of Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming trilogy. The first was Thank You For Coming: Attendance, presented at the Walker last year, and those who caught that show (I didn’t, unfortunately) will recognize common elements and references.

Thank You For Coming: Play begins with a bit of audience participation. Ushered onstage (stocking feet only, please) in groups of 14, attendees share a moment of contemplation and then contribute to what’s essentially a high-art Mad Lib. Meanwhile, five performers (Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Paul Singh, Laurel Snyder, and Brandon Washington) strike poses and sing a drone, occasionally changing costumes and positions.

Alcove-like spaces on the McGuire Theater stage are defined by giant sheets of foamcore that are eventually pulled away by Driscoll herself, who moves busily about the space as the performers begin to enact a highly dramatic but narratively incoherent play about… well, let’s just say it’s somewhere between a hero’s journey and A Chorus Line.

This play, which makes up the bulk of the show, is often entertaining even if it doesn’t stay in one place long enough to generate an impact. The performers fluidly trade roles and costumes, taking turns narrating and voicing dialogue that incorporates elements from the audience contributions. Driscoll directs the performers and, occasionally, the audience; musical interludes include a Driscoll-sung cri de coeur against a pointedly unnamed Donald J. Trump.

Eventually, the play ends and the performers are joined onstage by several audience volunteers who stand awkwardly aside as the performers iterate, reiterate, and essentially remix a conversation about their feelings while moving their bodies (including their mouths) in changing ways. This interlude, which goes on for some time, is the show’s most thorough exploration of the divergence of physical expression and spoken language. At the show’s conclusion, Driscoll takes the stage to read aloud some of the audience-generated sentiments, to predictably silly effect despite the hushed atmosphere.

As a dramatization of the disconnect between action and language (and, often, the inadequacy of the latter), Thank You For Coming: Play is expertly realized. Ultimately, though, it’s disappointing how little the experience leaves for you to chew on. The skits and solos are impressively executed, but connected in such a disjointed manner that the show struggles to find thematic traction; incorporating audience contributions as, essentially, random noise feels alienating rather than engaging.

Unmistakably flavored by pre-inaugural dread at a time when the very notion of shared understandings seems to be slipping away, Thank You For Coming: Play reflects that anxiety without promising catharsis or resolution. It’s an uneasy show for an uneasy era, and it’s left to be continued.