Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

BWW Review: AMBER from Washington Ensemble Theatre

pixeltracker

An immersive installation that needs more.

BWW Review: AMBER from Washington Ensemble Theatre
Patrons at amber, an installation from
Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Photo credit: Maria Manness

The 1970's and early 80's had a lot to set it apart but nothing more than the three D's, Disco, Disease, and Denial. Even as the Gay rights movement was starting to put LGBT folks into the spotlight, their very existence was threatened by an insidious plague that seemed to target only them (mostly gay men), AIDS and HIV. A plague that was largely unmentioned by the country's administration. But they still found moments of exuberance and freedom within the Disco clubs. And this is what "amber", an installation from Washington Ensemble Theatre aims to explore.

This immersive installation, created by Markeith Wiley and dani tirrell, is set up in sequestered areas of the 12thAve Arts Mainstage. Groups of 10 are guided through these spaces to relive this tumultuous and groovy era confronted with voices and facts from the past, culminating in a hot disco dance party. The whole experience is only 30 minutes and that's part of the problem.

Wiley and tirrell have created a wonderful slice of the era but I don't think they went far enough. I, myself, was born about 10 years too early to really be a part of that era but I was definitely a child of Disco and even I remember the events of the time. But the images and information presented only skims the surface of all that happened and then it's off to the dance party and it's over. Also, considering the information is presented as disembodied voices and informational timelines pasted to the walls, it doesn't quite draw you in enough. If only this Theatre company knew some actors that could convey the information. Yes, this Washington Ensemble Theatre production has none of the ensemble performing (aside from a few video moments). One of the scant moments throws their patrons into complete darkness while we hear sounds of a riot leading me to ask, "why?"

BWW Review: AMBER from Washington Ensemble Theatre
Patrons at amber, an installation from
Washington Ensemble Theatre.
Photo credit: Maria Manness

All of this, as I mentioned, ends with a visit to a tiny discotheque where the patrons can Boogie Oogie Oogie til they just can't Boogie no more. Or at least for a few minutes til the tour ends. But these few minutes of funk were probably the best part as it was the most immersive. Now, I will confess that as a theater reviewer I don't always have people to join me at these things and often I'll pick the earliest showtime I can so I can get the review out in a timely manner. But what this meant for "amber" was that I was the only patron at 2PM on a Saturday. Thankfully one of the theater staff took pity and joined me on the tour. But I'm sure it's much more fun with a big group.

With some sections that went on way too long with little payoff, and others that seemed entirely too short, "amber" feels not so immersive and is a rehash of the things we've heard a thousand times (with a few heartfelt and touching exceptions). Plus, the 30-minute tour time isn't quite enough of a reason for people to want to leave their bubbles. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give "amber" from Washington Ensemble Theatre a "wish I could've immersed more" MEH+. I was, however, able to extend my own party by telling SIRI to play me some Disco on the drive home, but it wasn't the same.

"amber" from Washington Ensemble Theatre performs at 12thAve Arts in 30-minute blocks, several times a day, through September 27th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.washingtonensemble.org.


Related Articles View More Seattle Stories

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

From This Author Jay Irwin