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Arts and Entertainment

The Car Plays

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Do you remember your first car? Chances are you do. In fact, you probably remember all of the seminal life events that took place in that car, and in every car thereafter; whether it was making up, making out, breaking up, breaking down, losing your cool, losing your mind, or losing your love. The events that take place inside of a car are of a nature so intimate that they are rarely shared outside of the car, especially to an audience of strangers. However, in a feat of true originality Moving Arts Artistic Director Paul Stein, along with the company's writers, actors and producers, have developed The Car Plays, a series of plays that take place in a space sacred to Angelenos, their cars.

The idea for The Car Plays, came out of necessity. When Moving Arts lost its permanent performance space in May 2006, they needed to think of a way to do theatre without the theatre. Artistic Director Paul Stein had been playing around with this idea of “fly on the wall” theatre for some time and decided that it was the right time to pursue it. Through workshops with Moving Arts writers, actors, directors and producers, The Car Plays was created. After a successful run in September 2006, Moving Arts returned with a new set of plays that ran through the summer, closing its final performance on Sunday night.

Upon arriving at the Steve Allen Theatre, at The Center for Inquiry, theatregoers are escorted by “car hops” into the parking lot, where they are then divided into three groups, “Avenue”, “Boulevard”, and “Street” and then ushered into the back (or front) seat of a parked car. However, as soon as you and your “car buddy” enter the vehicle you notice that you're not alone. The minute your car door is closed the two strangers already seated in the car come to life. The show has begun.

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For ten minutes, you are completely absorbed, and sometimes included, in the most private of conversations which cross a range of topics including disposing of a dead body, moving on after the death of a loved one, dealing with a phobia, and convincing two siblings to behave. Sometimes you are a voyeur, unacknowledged by the two actors in the car, merely an observer of the events that are transpiring around you. Other times you and your partner are included in the action as actors may ask you who you are, your profession, or the name of that you play with kid down the street.

When the scene is over, the "car hops" return to open your door and escort you to the next vehicle where a new story is waiting for you. At any one time fifteen plays are going on all around you (you will see five). With three shows in one evening (6:30, 7:30 and 8:30) each actor performs their scene a total of fifteen times.

However, even though an actor may have performed his scene four times in a row by the time I arrived at his car, every scene was so fresh and alive that I felt as though I was seeing the conversation happen for the first time. In fact, the work of Moving Arts players was some of the most truthful and spontaneous acting I have seen in a very long time, so much so that it was easy for me to forget that I was watching a rehearsed scene. Oftentimes the actors were so engaging that, in spite of the close quarters, I was moved to tears or burst out in laughter.

In a city where traveling by car is part of "la vie quotidienne" observing a 10-minute play from the back (or front) seat of a car is a natural fit. And while the intimacy of a play taking place beside you may seem a little unsettling at first, I can assure you that I have rarely felt so engaged in a theatrical experience (aside from being onstage myself) as I did during The Car Plays.