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BWW Review: THE OBJECT LESSON Unpacks Art and Stories at Studio Theatre

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Ever wanted to take a trip down that fabled rabbit hole? Or step through the storied looking glass into a world where things are not what you expect? You know that happy anticipation you feel when you're unwrapping a gift, and you have no idea what you might find? Or how about that rush of nostalgia and rediscovery when you're rifling through the boxes you've filled with stuff and stored away? Geoff Sobelle's The Object Lesson, currently playing at Studio Theatre takes all of those feelings and explodes them into 95 minutes of storytelling that captivates, challenges, entertains, and maybe even changes you. Owing to the fact that surprise and the unexpected are absolutely essential parts of this work of theater, it's difficult to write a review and avoid spoiling the experience. So I won't.

Here's what I will say:

The Object Lesson, originally commissioned by Lincoln Center 3, is one of the most creative, and pure, works of storytelling you are likely to see in a theater, and is the work of Sobelle, director David Neumann and installation artist Steven Dufala. In fact, you may forget you're in a theater, as you sit amidst the detritus of life assembled with a most intentional randomness, and manipulated into theater through the performance of Sobelle, multitalented illusionist, actor, artist, performer. I was overwhelmed upon entering the space, at the seemingly infinite number of stories that could be told with the treasure trove of inspiration at hand. Inspiration cleverly concealed by cardboard, that is; lots of cardboard. This is immersive theater, and your willingness to allow yourself to be drawn in (and maybe catch a prop tossed your way), will likely determine your impressions and experience of the show. The skill with which Sobelle manipulates the physical elements and Studio Theatre's Stage 4 space is spellbinding.

Caveats: the, um, nontraditional, general admission seating in the space can be a bit uncomfortable, yet it's integral to the experience. So be there when they open the house (generally about twenty minutes before the start of the show), and use the time to explore the room and select your place. I do not use the term explore lightly. This is not a "don't touch" kind of room. Open that box marked "home stuff," make note of the labels and writing on other boxes, and don't miss the "card catalogue" wall of drawers. Don't be timid, and don't rush to try and see everything. Wander, and It will prepare you for the storytelling style used by Sobelle, and warm up your mind for the wandering that will follow. But come prepared to feel some physical discomfort by the time the show ends. You may find yourself standing or moving around, so if you have physical limitations, I might suggest letting a member of the house staff know, and they may be able to guide you to a suitable place that will minimize the challenges.

There is both literal and figurative magic happening in the room, and, as noted above, it will require a certain amount of letting go on your part, to experience it fully. Light (and its partner, Dark), both external and internal, serve as Sobelle's costars, so to speak. The humor, and there is an abundance of it, may sneak up on you, and as this is not particularly linear storytelling, don't spend too much effort on trying to make it go from point A to point B in your own mind. For me, some of the vignettes are more successful than others, but I suspect that evaluation will differ with each audience member. Watch Sobelle's face, he is marvelously expressive. And I doubt there's anyone who will not marvel at the final twenty minutes; it's truly a wondrous display of art and magic, filled with poignant wisdom.

I daresay that each person who attends a performance of The Object Lesson will walk away with a wildly different story to tell. But everyone will find a bit of their own story somewhere in that room.

The Object Lesson runs through June 5, 2016 at DC's Studio Theatre. For more information and tickets visit www.studiotheatre.org/plays/play-detail/the-object-lesson.

All photos of Geoff Sobelle in The Object Lesson by Allie Dearie


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From This Author Ellen Burns

Born and raised in the DC-area, Ellen spent countless hours as a child and adult nurturing her love of theater in the classic DC venues, (read more...)

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