- Yale Union
Going to a play in a theater requires what poet Samuel Coleridge called a “willing suspension of disbelief.” For the length of the performance, you are often expected and encouraged to forget the fact that you are sitting in a huge room surrounded by a few dozen or a few hundred complete strangers while other strangers act out scenes in front of you. The best performances tend to be the ones that take you out of that place and let you ignore the real world for a time.
You get no such comforts with Richard Maxwell’s Showcase. For this two-man performance, you and a very few other spectators are brought into a darkened hotel room, positioned just so, and then, when the light above the bed turns on, you are instantly hyper-aware of everything around you. It’s not just the rustling of your fellow attendees, either. Once that light is switched on, you are greeted with the presence of a naked man (actor Jim Fletcher), lying fully exposed and checking his email on his phone. You can’t turn away or leave because that would mean drawing attention to yourself. So you watch and you listen as this unnamed gent talks to himself and tries to make sense of where he is, physically and existentially.
Let me reiterate one thing at this point: You are in an actual hotel room. Though this is presented by Yale Union, they didn’t construct a set in their cavernous home base. No, if you are lucky enough to catch one of the six remaining performances happening tonight and tomorrow night, you have to visit the downtown Hilton Executive Suites, go up to the 14th floor, and get waved in and positioned by YU co-founder Curtis Knapp.
And it’s not a large room either. The economy-sized space is meant for sleeping and ablutions before you take off for your next meeting or grind out another day at the conference. So being there, listening to this businessman conduct a free-form conversation with himself, the ceiling, and the figure lying next to him—actor Bob Feldman clad in a black bodysuit that conceals every inch of his skin—and mimicking his every move, referred to only as his “shadow"? It was like taking one of the kuroko, similarly dressed figures that move props around and help with scene changes in traditional Japanese theater, and forcing it center stage.
The half-hour performance was uncomfortably intimate enough, but Maxwell makes it more so by having his actor interact with and speak directly to the audience. “How’s everybody doing tonight?” he asked, grinning, and then bantering a bit with the one woman who dared speak aloud. From that point on, even as he stared outside the window, laughing at the people below (“Nervous! Nervous individuals!” he called them), and dressed for his day, he directed all of his words towards us.
At first, that worked to snap the thread of tension that buzzed through the room when the lights went on. But as his monologue wore on, and his commentary and stories became more fractured and troubling, that thread was replaced with a strange discomfort. Here was someone potentially losing his mind looking you right in the eye as he talks. And you can’t respond, nor can you avert your gaze. That Fletcher (who gives a superb performance) spoke every line with a flat cadence that was almost completely stripped of emotion only made the dialogue that much more off-putting.
If you’re anything like me, the whole experience will leave you shaken. It’s like getting caught in the act of eavesdropping and then not allowed to just apologize and walk away. You have to stand there and keep listening and keep absorbing every stray thought without comment. And if you don’t like what you’re hearing or seeing? Tough.
Showcase: Portland & Executive Tower, 921 SW 6th, Fri June 19 and Sat June 20, 7, 8, and 9 pm, free, RSVP required, yaleunion.org