Mary-Arrchie theatre is an ideal venue for David Cromer’s wild production of Kirk Lynn’s Cherrywood. For those who haven’t been, at first glance, you might easily think the theatre is housed within a sketchy liquor store. But then you see the sign for Mary-Arrchie next to the liquor store, and you hesitantly go up a narrow stairway to the flat above — as if you were entering the confines of a secret society or a seedy nightclub.
It’s a perfectly complimentary space for Cromer’s creation: an impromptu, late-night house party, made up of a wide cross section of urban Gen-Yers. This is an entirely original interpretation of Lynn’s script by Cromer — a script which is nothing more than a series of lines, with no indication of who says what and in what setting (I learned that tidbit here). Cromer took on this challenge with creative gusto, divvying up the dialogue amongst a diverse cast of 49 — an unheard of quantity, particularly considering the intimacy of the space.
As an audience member, you’re watching this party play out from the peripherals, from one of the 50 seats lining all four sides of the room. You’re a voyeur into an event that’s at first familiar, yet something’s off.
Some have described it as Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding for hipsters. Yeah…not quite — it’s not exactly interactive theatre, as you never leave your seat. But you feel like you’re part of the action. (Although I wish they served a buffet like at Tony ‘n Tina’s. I was hungry.)
Back to Cherrywood. What brings this group together? Why today? There’s a connecting thread about them each wanting to “change” — a concept that’s turned inside out through Lynn’s portentous and puzzling prose.
This piece is a puzzler. Someone gets shot just as the party heats up — but he doesn’t seem too hurt. What’s going on here? Why aren’t people leaving? Why is everyone so scared about making decisions? Wait: did they just say they are werewolves? Doesn’t anyone have a cell phone? Why with the stilted and hesitant dialogue? Why do they seem to need permission to do anything? Why does no one have the capacity to think or act independently?
On the train ride home, discussing the show with my equally perplexed theatre companion, I noted how the play seemed like an all-day office meeting from Hell. You know the kind: where brainstorming becomes a bitch session, no decisions are made, and you leave with a headache. No one is accountable for next steps. People sit back apathetically and let others do the work. Some talk like they know what they’re talking about, but they’re just making a fool of themselves. There aren’t enough bathroom breaks.
A strange comparison, but I think it works. This play has interesting things to say about how decisions are made — and how change results from those decisions. Groups are powerful, vital forces in enacting these decisions, but they only work when there’s an effective leader. Because, as anyone who’s studied communication theory knows, self-led groups are just a disaster. We need an agenda.
And then throw in some alcohol and a soundtrack of alternative tunes, and you’ve got yourself some Cherrywood.
I know — I’m rambling. This is a show that takes time to ferment in the brain, and I’m not going to pretend I get it all right now. Ask me again in a week. Or three.
“Cherrywood” plays through Aug. 8 at Mary-Arrchie Theatre. More information here >