Monday, May 16, 2022

Margin Notes: Try This On For Me

Seen on:
 Sunday, 5/15/22.
My grade: B+. Experimental and Intriguing.

Plot and Background
The New York Neo-Futurists, an artistic collective building original work, present the world premiere of Lee LeBreton's immersive/interactive play, which takes its audience through a surreal flea market on the hunt for the perfect outfit.

What I Knew Beforehand
Just the premise, which is how I like it.

You enter a room framed with clothes on clothes on clothes: racks of them in all colors hugging each wall, a display of mannequins adorned with hats, scarves, jewelry. The performers greet you quietly as they putter about the space, sorting and hanging more clothing on the racks, inviting you to seat yourself in any of the variety of comfy chairs around the space which frame the piano and the three small platforms with additional racks of clothes, old suitcases, hat boxes. You've been told you might get to leave with something but you don't know what that means yet. And then the show begins.

The three creators/performers of this show have had to straddle multiple identities in their lifetime: queerness, transness, Blackness, Brownness, feminine, masculine, youth and maturity. The phrase "Try This On For Me" refers not only to one element of the interactive experience--audience members trying on articles of clothing on display in the space--but also to trying on new identities, and sometimes just trying on new ideas. What does it mean to put on a hoop skirt and promenade slowly through a space, shoulders back and hands wafting? What is the acceptable shoe for a young man with feet too small to fit in conventional men's dress shoes? What clothes free you? What clothes tell the world who you are? Show creator Lee LeBreton frames these questions as three criteria: is it comfortable? is it legible (does it say who you are)? is it desirable (does it make you feel sexy/attractive)? These questions Lee asks himself, and then the performers ask us as well, about the clothes we wore to the show. They tell us stories from their childhood, from their now-hood, the challenge of finding outfits to meet all three criteria, to help them safely navigate the intersections of their identities. And when the audience is invited to peruse the racks for themselves, we can ask again of a new item we might acquire: is it comfortable? is it legible? is it desirable?

The day we went one of the three performers was in isolation, unable to be in the space with us but present in pre-records of her sections, and finally on FaceTime to introduce her to the audience and what we found. I'm pretty impressed with how smoothly they made this pivot, such that I began to question if it were planned or no (I still think no, but that they had enough warning to make quality recordings of Nicole Hill's sections). The work is engaging and introspective, inviting the audience to self-examine in equal measure to their reaction to the stories we're being told.

And I love my new jacket.


Running: Now playing at Playwrights Downtown (The New York Neo-Futurists) - Opening: May 12, 2022. Closing: May 21, 2022.
Category: immersive/interactive
Length: 1 hour, 30 minutes, no intermission.

Creative Team

Created, written, and performed by: Lee LeBreton, with Anooj Bhandari and Nicole Hill
Director: Dan Rogers
Production Design: Joseph Wolfslau

Lee LeBreton, Anooj Bhandari, and Nicole Hill.

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