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Geoff Sobelle explores our obsession with stuff

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Anyone who has moved is familiar with the experience of being surrounded by boxes and wondering, “When did I amass all this crap?”

Geoff Sobelle examines that quandary in The Object Lesson, a Bessie Award-winning, one-man show opening at the Walker Art Center this Wednesday.

The Santa Monica-raised, Stanford-educated performer doesn’t believe in the fourth wall; audience members are encouraged from the get-go to wade through mountains of cardboard boxes filled with treasures — or trash, depending on your perspective.

“Objects, props, and things like that always captured my imagination,” Sobelle says. “There’s something about the absurdity of how we surround ourselves with all this stuff that makes me laugh a lot.”

Sobelle was also inspired by George Carlin’s standup bit about stuff, in which the comedian asks, “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?” 

But Sobelle didn’t necessarily set out to create a play. “I was trying to make something that was akin to a kind of ritual. In my mind, maybe it was going to happen in the woods. There weren’t boxes, necessarily,” he says. “The impulse is what comes first, and you have to honor that impulse. I just wanted to make something for people to think about, meditate, and ruminate on stuff; those attachments; and the hidden corners of their lives.”

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Sobelle, who says he is never without a prop when improvising as a member of Pig Iron Theatre Company in Philadelphia, previously experimented with a stage “jammed with stuff” in a production called machines machines machines machines machines machines machines. The OBIE Award-winning show featured Rube Goldberg-style contraptions made from trash.

While Sobelle and Object Lesson's scenic installation designer Steven Dufala didn’t dumpster dive per se, they did stock the show with recycled and re-purposed stuff. In addition to Sobelle’s belongings, which he uncovered while moving, they sourced objects through Dufala’s brother, Billy, who runs the Recycled Artist in Residency Program (RAIR) in Philly. Their collection was completed with items from Materials for the Arts, a New York reuse center where companies and individuals donate extraneous supplies.

“It’s been surprising, watching people pass through the space and handle the objects,” Sobelle says. “People are much less careful than I would have thought, which is curious because they give themselves license pretty fast to treat things that aren’t theirs with some kind of contempt.”

While Sobelle claims he doesn’t have any “well-formed, theological conclusion” about what the production aims to convey, he does concede that “it’s hard to get rid of things. It’s much easier to consume.” Perhaps after sifting through The Object Lesson, you’ll feel more motivated to dump your junk.

IF YOU GO:

Geoff Sobelle: The Object Lesson

November 4-8

8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

McGuire Theater, Walker Art Center

All Ages

$20-$25