Home Is Where the Art Is: cARTel's Living Room Tour Returns With 'We Are Gathered Here'

LAist goes to great lengths to see promising performances. We've trekked out to the nether parts of the county; we've walked through noxious tar pits and cockroach-guarded warehouses; and we've forgone sleep after a long work week to see late-night shows. Our latest adventure involved braving the recent triple-digit heat wave that blasted Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago.

We decided to take in cARTel Collaborative Arts LA's new Living Room Tour production, We Are Gathered Here, in the worst possible weather conditions, stewing in our own sweaty swill sans air conditioning and thoroughly miserable that our usually lovely metropolis had morphed into a living hell. Why do we mention all this non-performance-related weather crap? Because We Are Gathered Here is such a pleasure to watch that we completely forgot how bitchy the heat was making us. The 90 minutes of pointed dialogue, knowing direction, and superior performances all swathed in the graciousness (and yummy snacks) of their volunteer living room host was totally worth braving the torrid heat.

cARTel's Living Room Tour is a homage to the now burgeoning theatre company's humble beginnings, where out of sheer necessitous pioneering and a deep desire to produce kick-ass plays, they started using their own living rooms as performance spaces.

Joe Drescher's We Are Gathered Here depicts an encounter between an unsure groom on the night before his wedding, an ex-girlfriend that is very determined to stop the wedding, and their circle of overly-involved, occasionally bitch-slapping friends. His script is full of multidimensional humor, rich emotional complexity, and exceptionally conceived, realistic dialogue and emphasizes the graciousness of friendship through a lens of beautifully orchestrated personalities, examination of social expectations, teetering fragility, and the active struggle with obligatory self-possession that comes with each new marker of adulthood.

The cast is full of engaging, sharply talented, and insightful performers. Site specific theatre such as the Living Room Tour does not have the advantage of staging tricks that lend themselves to emotion culling or the suspension of reality for the audience; all of the laughs, empathy, and entertaining brain engagement must come directly and only from the actors. This cast made it so very easy to kick back and simply enjoy the plot twists and their perfectly executed acting craft. Olivia Delgado mingles dark whimsy and frantic delicacy as the play's main antagonist, ex-girlfriend Jules. As Ben, the central character, Andrew Crabtree is full of authenticity and moving tangibility. Playing the entourage of surprisingly invested friends, Caity Engler, Melissa Recalde, and Peter Berube meld their vastly different characters to harmoniously create a smartly actualized comedic cacophony while making their character's dysfunctional quirks not only likable, but enviable. Finally, our favorite performance of the evening was by Emma Fassler as bride-to-be Lisa. Fassler crafted a matrix of voluminously layered wavering emotion, exceptional subtly, and cleverly divulged intimacy.

Under the direction of Alina DeBellis, We Are Gathered Here is, simply put, a really super extra fun theatrical experience. DeBellis is an engaging and natural director that certainly knows how to engage her audience. She pulls viewers deep into the frays of plot by using motion and tonality that renders the characters deliciously opaque for an especially gratifying night of theatre.

We Are Gathered Here plays through October 7. Tickets are $10 and available online. Because the Living Room Tour occurs in various private residences each week, cARTel provides a general location at the time of ticket purchase and a precise address via email before the performance.