“What happens next?” This question is the crux of almost any drama — theatrical, cinematic or otherwise — because when we the audience don’t ask that question, we have little investment in said drama. It’s investment that creates engagement that creates enjoyment. Normally, that is accomplished through character, emotions, plot twists and such.
But what Geoff Sobelle does so brilliantly in The Object Lesson, his piece about our obsession with things, is that he keeps us wondering what happens next without any overt storyline, stakes or characters. That is no mean feat. Instead, Sobelle employs an atavistic style of performance that draws from vaudeville and silent movies, a technique he used equally deftly in 2005’s all wear bowlers (also at the Kirk Douglas Theatre).
He makes us keenly aware of the sheer amount of stuff we produce and hoard in an understated and offhand manner, using physical gags, repetition and unexpected juxtaposition, all of which are cleverly set up to pique our basic human curiosity. The message hits home, though, because Sobelle involves the audience to tremendous effect: Much of the time we’re laughing not at him but at one another.
Steven Dufala’s amazingly massive “attic” set, which extends into the seating area of the theater, also fosters such interaction because it eliminates any division between audience and performer.
The show not only shatters the fourth wall but there are no first, second or third walls to speak of.
Audience members sit where they like, including on the stage. As a result, our inner children come out as we are encouraged to do things we normally can’t in a theater: talk to our neighbors, eat and drink, walk around or change seats in order to get a better view.
In one particularly communal portion of the show, Christopher Kuhl’s warm, intimate lighting and Nick Kourtides' nighttime soundscape make us feel as if we were sitting around the glow of a campfire, listening to Sobelle tell stories. In that moment, Sobelle again harkens back to the origins of the theatrical impulse in human civilization, and it’s a wonderful reminder of why we gravitate toward this art form.
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While the setup and cleanup for this type of show must be a stage manager’s nightmare, the mess created by the end of it is strangely beautiful in the way that a fresh and bleeding cut is: It’s a stark reminder of our humanity, even if that humanity is a painful reminder of our own frailty.
GO! Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City; through Oct. 4. (213) 628-2772.