2.5 out of 4 Stars
I’ll be frank: Thank You For Coming: Play is hard to describe. A hysterical mashup of theatrical antics, exaggerated movement, and audience singalong, it walks a fine line between pretension and camp. It jumps and screams and entertains you….but one is left wondering what exactly just happened, and whether the enormous expenditure of energy was entirely worth it.
The audience experience of Play begins on the stage itself, where we hang out around a large white rectangle with wigs, costume items, and props strewn about. We fill out index cards with prompts like “I share my body with _____” and “They don’t know I _____.” After a while, little clips of text by dramaturg Amanda Davidson burst forth from various corners of the crowd, the performers having coaxed audience members into shouting “What did you do to my baby?/ It was you, wasn’t it?!/ Watch out!/ This dad is not the same dad as my last dad!” and whatnot. It’s a rhythmic, often funny, communal chorus that functions much like the overture in an opera: introducing text that appears throughout the rest of the show.
Released to our seats, the immensely talented performers take over—and the incredible physical and vocal articulation of Sean Donovan, Lindsay Head, Paul Singh, Laurel Snyder and Brandon Washington is a delight. The white rectangle has been transformed into a stage-within-a-stage (cleverly designed by Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin) where the action is centered. They prance, mime, do slapstick, and change costumes every thirty seconds. They wear thongs and wigs, and stop to give each other notes. They also (vaguely) tell us a story about a character of indeterminate age and gender called Barbone—anyone and everyone, you and me. We sing a song about anxiety, and Driscoll makes an appearance to sing a rock ballad with angry, political, not-super-great lyrics. It’s all quite amusing and flawlessly directed, the transitions never missing a beat.
Just when you think it’s over (after the audience has in fact applauded), it turns out half of the show remains. In a welcome change of pace, with conversational voices and street clothes, the actors discuss loneliness and dating, and tell other anecdotes, all while mouthing most of the words, making gestures, and twitching. It’s an exercise that feels fresh at first, but goes on too long. The show concludes with Driscoll reading the audience’s index cards with a flashlight in the dark. This also feels like a cute idea that overstays its welcome. All in all, one wonders what the point of it all was. Maybe there was no point, and that’s the point. It was a mostly fun experiment. But I’d love to see what Driscoll’s directorial prowess, and her cast’s enviable energies, could do if all of their exploration unearthed some more substantial ideas to for us to chew on.
This show was one weekend only: Nov. 9,10, and 11 at 7:30pm and Nov. 12 at 2pm. The MCA is at 220 E. Chicago Ave; call 312-397-4072 or visit www.mcachicago.org for more information.