Jennifer Vanasco is a News Editor at WNYC where she edits the newscast for air and web and is the newsroom's theater critic.
A Play for You Alone
Witness at LONEtheater is part of the undergroundzero theater festival
Saturday, July 19, 2014
You are waiting for the subway and a woman, a stranger, asks you for the time.
You show her your phone. She tells you she's running late — and then draws you into a conversation that propels you, somehow, into getting on the train with her.
That's how Witness starts. It is one of five 30-minute plays — or as its creators say, "theatrical interventions" — from LONEtheater, running in repertory as part of the undergroundzero festival. And it's unlike anything I've seen before.
All five of the plays are shown for an audience of one. When you buy your ticket, you're given detailed instructions of where you should go and what to do so that the actor(s) will recognize you. What follows is a thrill-ride of an immersion experience, at least with the play I saw.
Actress April Sweeney (who translated playwright and director Matías Umpierrez's play along with Patricia Masera) plays a young woman who works in an architect's office; just a random woman you might strike up a conversation with on the subway when the train is late. And perhaps like those conversations we've all had with strangers in New York, this one goes from desultory to strange (she describes being alone in a dark subway tunnel as feeling like she was inside a wolf's mouth) and then morphs into a compelling monologue where she describes being the witness to someone else's romance.
The story is less about the subway and more about how we can fixate on strangers who seem to mirror our own unhappiness.
That these stories are only told to one person at a time could seem like a gimmick, but Witness is the best kind of theater: Intimate and trans-formative and reflective. It is a reminder that when you see theater, you are always in some sense viewing it alone through your own lens. Even when you're in a full theater — or a crowded subway.