What: “Tea Party”
When: 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m., Sunday Thursday,
Where: Xperimental Theatre at the Rarig Center
Cost: Free. Reserve tickets through email@example.com
In the theater-going world, few conventions draw as much ire as the post-show Q&A. The only people who ever seem to truly enjoy it are the actors, for whom the glow of post-show adrenaline is strong enough to shine through layers of sweat and stage makeup.
But hey, there’s something happening at the Xperimental Theatre this weekend that does away with the typical awkwardness of the actor-audience relationship.
It’s a devised work called “Tea Party” and it opens Thursday night.
It’s about politics, but it’s not concerned with the details of policy decisions. Rather, third-year graduate student Elliot Leffler and his band of four actors — Savannah Ricard, Trevor Spriggs, Grace Christenson and Rex Davenport — have formed an unscripted production that should be welcoming to even the most reserved politicophobe.
“It’s taking the politics out of politics, which is very hard to do,” said Christenson, a second-year theater major.
The four “Tea Party” vignettes break down the giant questions of our political climate and simplify them.
“It’s a political moment where it feels to me like the far right and the far left are framing a debate,” Leffler said, “and it could be a really constructive debate.”
Leffler hasn’t been involved with either the Tea Party movement or the Occupy Wall Street movement, but he finds that the larger questions the groups bring up — questions of rights, of sharing, of property and taxes — are worth debating.
“I think the bulk of Americans, who are in the center, are not asking each other those great, important questions,” he said.
In the first act, we’re confronted with little kids fighting about toys. Then we’re asked to help a struggling church decide between cutting programs and mandating a tithe.
In the second act, we’re warmed up with confidence to get more boldly political — the audience is asked to discuss modern military spending and then we’re taken back to the 1770s for a literal intersection of the show’s themes in the form of a discussion about the Boston Tea Party.
“A tea party is, in part, a gathering of political discourse and has been for hundreds of years,” Leffler said.
The “Tea Party” folks made up a brain trust of four people who represent different points of the political spectrum to keep them honest and balanced. They invited a Democrat, a Republican, a libertarian and a socialist to join them in rehearsals.
“I think so many of us, myself included, move in social spheres with people who agree with us, primarily, about most of the big important issues of our society,” Leffler said.
But in these rehearsals, actors and political mavens alike have had a comfortable space to challenge each other about their differences in a mature way.
“Eventually, you come up with a collective of all these different ideas, and you work to make them fit together and mesh,” said Davenport, a first-year theater major.
Part of that comfort must be credited to the scenic stylings of Jonathon Offutt. The master of fine arts student’s design has given the Xperimental Theatre a cozy, luxurious atmosphere. A rag-tag collection of mismatched chairs and tables sit atop dusty oriental rugs. The floor peeking out from under the rugs is painted with the images from zoomed-in $1 bills.
The audience will be scrambled around down in the pit, with the actors.
“It’s not breaking the fourth wall so much as there is not one,” Christenson said.
At the productions’ semi-public dress rehearsal last Thursday night, the actors proved their capacity to spur discussion naturally by creating four climactic moments. Their calls to the audience for intervention and discussion felt natural and inclusionary.
This production might just be the most vibrant, textured and relevant show to come out of the Rarig Center in recent memory.