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An Immersive Play About Work Combines Dance, Theater And Cocktails
The Day Shall Declare It, an immersive, experimental play, has returned to downtown's Arts District.When you arrive at The Day Shall Declare It, hosted in the Arts District's Imperial Art Studios, you're encouraged to stop by The Paradise. It's in the back, and it's a bar set up like a speakeasy, with twists on Prohibition-era cocktails from The Vagrant Bartenders. They run about $12 or so, and they're tasty and boozy, setting you up nicely for the dreamy show about to unfold. (Though we'd suggest getting there early if you want a drink, as you're required to finish it before the show starts. They also have beer, wine and simple cocktails.)
The play itself comes from Wilderness, and is co-directed by Annie Saunders and Sophie Bortolussi.
When it begins, the bar you've been drinking at suddenly becomes a hotel bar in the 1930s. A giggling, dancing couple implies that they spend the night together. The bartender tries to impress the man with a magic trick. The actors brush between audience members, gently moving them out of the way if necessary.
Too soon, however, you find yourself in the dingy home of the man and the woman, now a miserable couple with a baby, likely conceived that same night. The man's boyish charm still bubbles through his longing for something else in life but repetitive work, but the woman has cut off her curls and seems resigned to monotony.
The play draws from Tennessee Williams' American Blues and Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day And How They Feel About What They Do (1974) by Studs Terkel. You can recognize parts of Moony's Kids Don't Cry, one of the five, one-act plays in American Blues, in that first scene with the couple. The themes that emerge are ones of working, and how it affects us.
It becomes obvious that this isn't so much a play of words, but movement. The couple sweeps through the room, hoisting each other up, climbing on tables and whirling around props in a quick dance. The settings are all minimal in nature, allowing your mind to fill in the rest of the pieces of the dimly lit rooms. You may find yourself dodging the action, or finding a wall or column to lean against.
You don't stay with the couple the whole play, and the narrative occasionally becomes muddled. Characters talk about work and dreams, that much is clear, but their relationships are murky. There are only three of them—played by Chris Polick, Anthony Nikolchev and Saunders—and it's hard to keep track of who they are, and when they change into other personalities.
In another setting, a pair of offices are partially obscured behind wire mesh panels and blinds hung from the ceiling. The actors kick themselves off the panels, the clanging sound matching the ambient soundtrack that plays throughout the duration of the show.
If you're in the right place at the right time, something may be revealed to you. At one point, Saunders leaned in close to me, resting her temple against mine and whispering a line only I could hear. At another point, as I stood in the back of a scene, she came up from behind, took my hand and led me outside. I watched a portion of the action with her, isolated from my former audience members. When she led me back inside, everything changed and we were instantly involved in some kind of post-Apocalyptic nightmare with heavy strobe lights, jarring by comparison.
To be clear, the physical feats the actors perform are truly impressive. There are moments where you're certain they're going to fall and injure themselves, but they don't. And though it seems effortless as they never sound breathless, when the light catches them just right, you can see sweat glistening on their limbs.
When the play finishes, guests are invited to stick around for another cocktail. There is also food and live music outside, around a fire pit that fits beautifully into the closing words of the play.
The Day Shall Declare It premiered in London in 2014, and played a sold-out run in Los Angeles last year. It returns with additional support from ad agency HeLo, but we'd suggest picking up tickets soon.
There will be an after-party at The Paradise with Louisiana BBQ, cocktails and live music on opening night, May 10 at 9:45 p.m. This is accessible even if you do not have a ticket to the show.
The Day Shall Declare It runs May 10-June 19 at 8:30 p.m., at Imperial Arts Studios at 2051 East 7th St. in the Arts District. Tickets are $25-75 and are available here.