The fourth wall has always been my favorite wall, so being assigned a character and given a script to read out in play Suspicious Package is far from my comfort zone.
Fortunately the noir thriller presented by Future Tenant holds your hand digitally. Each audience member is given a Zune Player - an ipod-type device - that guides you through the plot via character-specific audiovisual instructions. It’s like a real life video game and it takes place up the back alleys of downtown Pittsburgh.
The play, devised by Gyda Arber and Wendy Coyle, is a riot of stimuli both digital and real. When you’re plugged into the Zune every street sign looks different and every stranger seems a possible character in the narrative. Your character’s thoughts play through earbuds and video flashbacks appear on its screen. I’m instructed to enter stores then linger about suspiciously awaiting further instructions, feeling the eponymous package may be the one the storekeeper thinks I’m about to shoplift.
It’s hard to be objective about a show when you’re inside it - I only get to see one character’s trajectory - but the plot is secondary to the experience of enacting it. The play itself is more about the theatrical world than the noir one. Its characters include a ruthless showgirl, a hardboiled producer and a starstruck heiress, all clawing their way to the top, all played by members of the audience.
It’s a world I start to embrace. My first emotional reaction during the show is jealousy; other participants are definitely delivering their lines better than me. Then I adapt to my character of the heiress so much that I purchase a few superfluous items in a store during the show - some method acting so good I even have the storekeeper fooled.
In the wrap party afterwards (your ticket price includes a complimentary drink) I find out that other characters had better sexual tension and start suspecting other cast members are sleeping together. Suspicious Package certainly gives you a real feel for showbiz.
It’s a discombobulating and unrepeatable experience. The play required extensive rewrites just to be performed for four days in Pittsburgh and has been staged previously only in Brooklyn and for a sold-out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With four to six tickets available a showing, it will be a crime if it doesn’t do the same here — a camp theatrical crime that the audience have to solve themselves.
Suspicious Package runs daily through Sun., Oct. 21, with hourly performances 1 - 4 p.m. Tickets are $25 and available here.