Having a birthday in the weekday sucks. If your significant other cares about you at all, though, she’ll find something special to do with you that weekend to take your mind off that fact that you’re working on the one day in the year you can get away with most anything you like. For this year, my girlfriend decided to treat me to a turn of the century theater experience like no other, and can best be expressed by their marvelous 30 second website plug:
The Ryan Case! If you don’t already know me, I’m sort of a steampunk fan, and the basis of the aesthetic rests on turn-of-the century times and tribulations. This production showcases a lot of those late 1800s themes in a unique way, by using the backdrop of modern-day chinatown and changing it in a subtle alchemy of pitch-perfect accent and on-the-spot improvisation. Get your flux capactiors running, because we’re headed back to Five Points, New York, 1873, a noir landscape of Irish immigrants, corrupt cops and murder most foul.
Now, for starters I more or less grew up in Chinatown. It’s hard not to find yourself there as a young child fresh off the boat, or stay away from it long enough to miss the nostalgia of home. Take it from me then, that LiveInTheater has done a remarkable job in transforming the environs enough to take you away from the bustle of fruit vendors or staring housewives. Basically, the production has you and your group taking a roundabout route through the neighborhood, through streets that most New Yorkers would find strange or archaic. Most of the old tenement housing is still there, as well as many Asian inspired buildings that throw a foreign look to the city. After that, the extraordinary cast takes over, of which the cop, landlord and the lady of the evening have become my favorites.
Using a combination of seriously professional acting and gritty costuming, each of the six dubious characters commands his or her own personal stage of a street corner or park bench, displaying the brilliant feats of crowd control, improvisation, timing and complete immersion in their character. The actor will wait until he sees the bright detective’s cap of the group, and accost them or ennunciate loudly to catch their attention. Afterward it is up to the group to ask questions, test the actor’s cunning improv, and extract vital details that could lead to the solving of the Ryan case. Seeing the actors in three dimensions gives extra appreciation of their craft, compared to the two-dimensional classic theatre experience.I particularly like the fact that each actor is given immense personal performance space, before all are thrown together in the end to reveal whodunit. In one brilliant stroke, the start of the production is in the alley of Mosco street, a slanted, gently grimy pathway just around the corner from a street full of mortuaries.
Undoubtedly the production is low budget, but instead of suffering from a lack of backdrop or props, the limited scope of the production leads one to focus on the set being created under your own two feet, the intricacies of the case, and the minute body language and line delivery of the actors. Every one of them is a master storyteller, and soon they’ll have you analyzing motives, placing time lines and considering pieces of evidence, a mental activity that will take you deeper and deeper into the lives and hardships of the characters.
At the end of the production, I really felt like I was making headway into a real case. There’s also replay value, because the details of the case are extremely flexible and the producer mentioned they were developing alternate endings. For the so inclined it is entirely possible to act along with the cast and really play the part of a rookie Holmes wannabe in a genuine mystery that changes with every tour of the neighborhood. It doesn’t hurt either that the commanding officer said my team was the closest to solving the case, either =p.
If you’re interested in a preview of the production, you may catch sight of the actors in Chinatown in full period dress. However, I strongly urge you to take the full experience, as each encounter is different and the interaction cannot be reproduced. Also, Mr. Burke may accuse you of cheating, after he asks if you have a bit of whiskey on you.
Also this weekend, my car dropped her exhaust on the highway and the two of us had to MacGuyver it back into place: