I know it’s not for everyone, but I truly enjoy immersive theater, the way the performers and the audience wind up on a shared adventure with only one party knowing where they’re headed. So, yes, I am a fan of Sleep No More and Queen of the Night. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for creator Randy Weiner’s latest, Seeing You, which opened tonight off-Broadway.
Upon entry to the space, a former meat market, visitors are greeted with a “Welcome to Hoboken,” a military dog tag to identify us as members of the audience (much like the audience’s masks at Sleep No More), and a small piece of paper we’re told we’ll need later. We’ve stepped into a close community during World War II, just as decisions are being made about whether to drop an atomic bomb. The residents of Hoboken are going about their daily business — seen in vignettes on a loop throughout the vast space — as they prepare for a Congressman’s town hall meeting.
Once the audience has filed in and had time to meet at least some of the characters — Dorothy (Lauren Yalango-Grant), a young military wife whose husband is enlisted, and I bonded right away — the town hall commences and the congressman poses an interesting conundrum: He asks that you write on those paper slips how many innocent Japanese lives you’d be willing to take in order to save one million American lives. This seemed an interesting question to pose in a theatrical setting, and one I expected would come back to haunt each audience member throughout the show. But, for the most part, it didn’t.
What did follow, though, was a loud alarm and then constantly moving and impressively organized chaos. Through the use of curtains and lights, the space was constantly shifting as the actors performed in and around the theatergoers. Some were tapped on the shoulder and taken to more intimate spaces; others were asked questions like, “Have you ever been in love?” and “Are you American?”
Ryan Heffington, the avante garde choreographer behind Sia’s famous “Chandelier” video, co-directed Seeing You along with Weiner, and choreographed as well. While most of the vignettes lacked the “wow” factor of “Chandelier,” one of the numbers, in which actresses Eriko Jimbo and Lauren Cox danced dressed as nurses with a clothing rack on wheels, was particularly memorable.
Ultimately, I appreciate the courage it must take on behalf of the cast and crew to trust — and touch! — a new crowd of total strangers for every performance, but I would say Seeing You isn’t all that worth seeing. C