Review: HOMELESS GARDEN at Avant Bard

“Homeless Garden” runs through May 25 at Avant Bard’s Gunston Art Center Theatre Two.

By: May. 07, 2024
Review: HOMELESS GARDEN at Avant Bard
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The season ending production for the Avant Bard company in Arlington this month was supposed to be a new regional premiere by Matt Minnicino called “Homeless Garden.” But because of staffing and funding issues, they found they couldn’t do it as planned.

So they moved to Plan B: Make a movie of it instead. After all, we’re not so far removed from the pandemic days when theater companies stayed afloat by filming and streaming their productions. What’s different about the current endeavor is that they’re charging audiences to come in and watch them do the filming, one or two scenes at a time. 

You’ll never see enough to know what’s going on at all — the opening performance had one five-minute scene, shot three times from different angles. But you observe the process as director Kathleen Akerley talks you through it and opens up a conversation with the audience about the difficulties faced by theater companies today. 

That part is filmed too (so the line at the box-office is slowed by having everybody sign a consent waiver).

The result will be a documentary about the process of shooting this work, including some of the discussion that comes up during the audience sessions. “How this 90 minutes goes is up to you,” Akerley says in encouraging participation.

She also adds, “this is not a theatrical event.” Accordingly, this shouldn’t be a review (a press release suggest stories be labeled “arts coverage rather than theater”). But they do ask people to pay for tickets to be part of this event, so...

Those who attend will receive a digital copy of the finished copy at some future date. But it’s a shame nobody will get to see the whole of Minnicino’s work, which he  co-conceived  with Graham Miller and was originally produced by Refracted Theatre Company,  yet another reinterpretation of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” At least it won't be seen in its entirety until the finished film is complete (and maybe not even then: because now it’s a documentary about the process of making it). 

Akerley says the melding of the two ideas works since the reinterpretation of Chekhov’s 120-year-old play  “delves into themes of scarcity mindset, conflicting interests in land use and the ability (or inability) of leadership to acknowledge its own shortcomings, and, if necessary, step aside.” Which she says is what American theatrical companies are doing.

Too bad we don’t see more than a little bit of Sara Barker acting in her lead role, opposite Louis E. Davis in the snippet we saw — Scene 8, Takes 1 through 3. She’s very good in what little we see. (And we don’t see the other cast members at all, though they’re hanging around).

There are unintended aspects of filmmaking audiences will experience, like waiting around, technical delays  and starting late. After being led into a dark space, the harsh lights flash on and will stay on for the duration. The set is bare, though oddly dressed to play up The Warehouse feel (an open ladder and scaffold standing here and there).

Akerley’s right about one thing: It’s not a theatrical event. 

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. 

Photo credit: Sara Baker in “Homeless Garden.” Photo by Kathleen Akerley

“Homeless Garden” runs through May 25 at Avant Bard’s Gunston Art Center Theatre Two, 2700 South Lang St., Arlington Va. Tickets and information available online


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