Up Close Festival: Show Review by Lainie Gutterman

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro among the audience members in VELVEETA UNDERGROUND: A Pizza Rat’s Quest to Save Cheesy Beet Poetry. Photo by Buatti-Ramos Photography.

I am extremely picky when it comes to performances. When a last minute opportunity to review Up Close Festival at the New Ohio Theatre in the West Village (154 Christopher St) was offered to me on Christmas Eve, I could not turn it down.

Aside from noticing Trusty Sidekick Theater Company was involved, I didn’t read what the show was about. I prefer walking into a show without any preconceived notions. I also find the less of an expectation I have, the more I actually enjoy what I am watching.

Similarly, Trusty Sidekick says, “Kids often have no preconceptions about what theater should be, so we allow ourselves to be driven with the same sense of curiosity.”

The Inaugural (and first-ever-of-its kind) Up Close Festival is modeled after the community organizing legacy of Jane Jacob’s, the famed West Village urbanist, community activist and beloved Robert Moses foe.  The directors have “reimagined real moments from Greenwich Village’s past in a way that casts you, the community, as our lead character.”

Maybe it’s because I like when things revolve around me that I found this 60 minute immersive performance, directed by Peter Musante and Summer Shapiro, to be fantastic.

Small groups are personally escorted into the stage through a secret entranceway. While waiting for all the audience members to assemble, we had an opportunity to check out the stage and various props. It turns out that there are no actual assigned seats for the show. Instead the audience moves thru a maze and is taken on many adventures. Host Summer Shapiro plays Ms. Pea who explains that this is an archive —a place that holds stories and we are going to see stories come to life.

I especially appreciated how many materials and even how archaic objects were incorporated into the production. First, slides of rodents were projected on the wall. Summer used a disposable camera to take a group shot of all of us. Remember this is a reenactment of decades way before iPhones and selfies. Another act relies on a transistor radio.

During “Juan Rodriguez and the City of Immigrants,” the audience sings a duet with Jono Waldman. 

Marisol Rosa-Shapiro’s “Velveeta Underground: A Pizza Rat’s Quest To Save Cheesy Beet Poetry (Part 1)” was definitely my favorite act. It’s pretty hard not to be enamored by a rat with a long tail writing rhyming poetry. I was impressed with her ability to improv as she asked audience members questions. Warning: you may leave craving pizza.

Hello darkness, my old friend. Thanks for passing out candles and blankets for “Hope at The Bitter End.” Three actors of Trusty Sidekick Theater takes us back to a blackout on a winter’s night in 1965.

The finale was fun as I watched another mom videotaping it because her daughter was chosen to be part of “A Sidewalk Ballet: A Ribbon-Tying Ceremony, Jane Jacob’s and You.”

The 10 minute acts were the right length of time to keep me (and my kids) engaged and fully interested.

I am extremely excited to return for Part B which is running from December 27-31. I highly recommend you get tickets ($25). Use the code “family” to save on tickets for a group of three of more. No need to dress up as you sit on the floor (or can grab various folding chairs) I advise wearing comfortable clothing and not a skirt or dress. The show is recommended for ages 5 and up.

Visit http://www.newohiotheater.org/upclose2018/htm.

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