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You Are in an Open Field

nytheatre.com review by Bess Rowen
April 28, 2012

What would happen if the coolest nerds you know were to make a rap musical about the daily grind? The result would certainly be the thoroughly entertaining and sharply intelligent You Are In An Open Field.

The tone of this production is set as the audience enters to a modulated voice speaking the words “You are in an open field. On the left side of a white house.” A bouncing beat is in the background and the audience is invited to play Atari while everyone gets settled. Welcome to the New York Neo-Futurists’ nerdy and hilarious video game themed hip hop musical You Are In An Open Field.

Perhaps you know of the “Neos” from their long-running and ever-changing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. In that show the performers attempt to perform 30 short plays in 60 minutes, relying on help from the audience, their own ingenuity, and a great deal of improv. Though You Are In An Open Field is not the same set-up, many aspects of the Neo-Futurist aesthetic are still prominent. The Neos are always themselves on stage, they often require audience participation, and even though there is a script, there are randomized aspects of the show so that it is always different.

So it is that Kevin R. Free, Marta Rainer, and Adam Smith become the lead characters in their own video game, complete with levels, guides, and bosses. Each “character” is on a quest: Kevin wants to fly, Marta wants to breathe underwater, and Adam wants to shoot fire out of his hands. Director Chris Dippel, who is also a co-set designer with Lauren Parrish, has done an excellent job at streamlining the movement and the staging. The Neos specialize at creatively re-using household items in creative ways, which is evident here from a couch and PVC piping fort to a set of modified pizza box armor.

Kevin, Marta, and Adam undertake a whimsically animated journey to beat the mastermind/guide/villain character played by Steven A. French and his dancing sidekick Cherylynn Tsushima. In the process, they sing raps about their own struggles and successes. Filled with witty allusions to everything from video games to theatre history to science, this show has something for everyone. The infectious charm of the performers is a joy to watch, and their energy makes this show a non-stop adventure.

Besides their stage presence, You Are In An Open Field does an excellent job of foregrounding the actors in everything it does. The design is clever and even sarcastic at times, which leads to another overall theme of the production. This is a self-aware show, and a great deal of the humor comes from the constant reminder that this is a play. . .about a video game. . .by the NY Neo-Futurists. The awareness of each of these levels causes a relationship that includes the audience in an immediate inside joke of doing a play.

This meta-theatricality exists alongside and in conjunction with fantastic theatre. In other words, French often speaks about the arc of the play as he creates the arc of the play. Throughout the show one learns to expect the unexpected in an exciting way. Part of this effect is also a result of the combination of live acting, live music provided by Carl Riehl on accordion and keytar, Scott Selig on bass guitar and Patrick Carmichael on drums, and projected pixelated video aspects, designed and created by Liliana Dirks-Goodman.

You Are In An Open Field is the kind of theatre that inspires me to think about the future of this art form. Equal parts intelligent, funny, and exciting, this show is a postmodern musical that had a modulated vocal track stuck in my head for hours. I wouldn’t have it any other way.