Paradise By The Dashboard Light

Hey Big Boy, are you looking for some site-specific experimental theater?

Hey Big Boy, are you looking for some site-specific experimental theater?

Imagine the proscenium arch reduced to six feet across and a couple of feet high and you'll be on your way to picturing Skewed Visions' The Car. Staged in the front seat of moving cars with its audience in the back seat, this show exploits Minneapolis streets as backdrops to three eloquent psychodramas. The mini-plays are certainly no less harrowing for occurring two feet away--and with actors subverting the usual voyeurism of the theater by turning their gaze to the audience.

The Car returns in revised form from the 2000 Fringe Festival and comprises three short unrelated works that all take place in different cars. The maximum audience on any night is nine--not the sort of viewing experience in which one can retain blessed anonymity. The characters range from merely unhappy to barking, desperately mad, and they unfold their dysfunction through near-poetry and revelatory soliloquy. It might sound like a definition of social hell to shy, retiring types, but the rewards outstrip the costs of enduring this almost painful intimacy.

"The Taxi," directed by Sean Kelley-Pegg and created by Charles Campbell, was the first setup I saw. It begins in a cab (this was the first play I've known to be delayed by a tire problem) with Campbell playing the haunted driver spotting a woman on the street who, after a long deliberation, hops in. Cherri Macht rides in silence until turning and delivering a tremendous existential monologue (the piece incorporates Proust, Beckett, and Camus, so don't come looking for giggles) about the ephemerality of people, things, and the city. Macht exudes radiant sorrow while describing her character's life of fleeting connections and, just as her character and Campbell's seem poised for reconciliation, a perfectly timed intrusion scuttles things. Macht and Campbell give their performances depth and a sense of backstory--while leaving these particulars unknown to the audience.

Next comes a beat-up Buick and "The Wild Ride" (the order in which audience members see these works varies). Enter Juliette Dannucci's Harmony, a fast-food worker party girl whose synthetic cheer fades fast when she demands that the audience admit she stinks of stale grease (the play isn't meant to be interactive, which adds to the hall-of-mirrors sense of passivity and exposure between cast and viewers). She's joined by Jack (Nathan Christopher), a brittle cube worker, and the tittering Bill (Xavier Rice). The trio commences to transform into raving maniacs careening around the Warehouse District. Bill becomes Shirleen, complete with a shocking blond wig, and Jack turns into a scary sci-fi cowboy waving a plastic ray gun. Ostensibly looking for a nightclub, they scream, rant, fight, and take turns engaging the audience in twisted confidences. The three are convincing, display unreasonably high energy, and are more than a little frightening. A high point is their dark-alley dust-up to the tune of "Convoy."

"The Prostitute" follows, directed by Gulgun Kayim (who also directed "The Wild Ride"). Jared Reise as "the John" stops in front of Sex World after a long, silent, uncomfortable (for the audience) vehicular meander. He takes on cargo in the form of a prostitute (Rebecca Yoho) and parks in a dark, deserted lot where said hooker...plies her trade (in a non-graphic manner). Yoho simultaneously delivers a harrowing monologue on the depths of her despair. Then it's off for a 10-mph spin down Washington Avenue--with Yoho following, beating on the car, and yelling at the audience. Finally Reise makes a game attempt at running her down in his Geo Prism. The drive back to the starting point is not without tension.

The Car succeeds wildly on its promise of "intimacy in the urban setting," then subtly pulls the rug out from under its own premise by infusing that intimacy with pain, loss, alienation, and the dead territories beyond. My only regret was not having an opportunity to applaud.