Amber Marince, Lauren Lane, Cathleen Ridley, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Anne-Marie Trabolsi, Ceci Fernández, Nathan Darrow, John McGinty, & Jane Park.
Block Association Project
Written by Michael Yates Crowley
Directed by Michael Rau
Sound and video by Asa Wember
Created by Wolf 359
A review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2021 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
In the 14 months since theatres shut down, plays have been streamed and Zoomed in all manner of configuration and with varying degrees of success, but Block Association Project is, in my experience, the new play that most fully integrates the relationship between ensemble, audience, and technology. Immersive and interactive, if we hadn’t become so accustomed to social conferencing we wouldn’t quite know what to make of it, but now it perfectly fits the moment and captures the fervent desire to build a community, whatever the cost.
If you attend this first meeting of the Oak Street Block Association, the social distance of the audience is quickly obliterated by all attendees being broken up into meeting rooms and introduced to each other. As Rachel (Lauren Lane) haphazardly leads the full meeting, the lack of Robert’s Rules of Order allows the proceedings to continually detour from the simple agenda and devolve into petty bickering. Essential issues about the proper use of green space and dog-walking etiquette trigger surprising conflict among the diverse group that now includes us. It is nearly impossible to not identify with the easy rise of hostilities and devotion to self-interest among neighbors, however, comically it is presented.
And, despite our own role being somewhat-earnest (at least in our breakout group), this is funny. From Rachel’s overly optimistic cheeriness to Elena’s (Ceci Fernández) anal-retentive demand for orderliness, the characterizations are sharply drawn parodies of community leadership. My favorite was Emma (Anne-Marie Trabolsi), a younger member whose heart-on-her-sleeve liberalism, slogan-filled dialogue, and commentary through her changing zoom backgrounds were hilarious. The overbearing academic tone of Aneta Pitowski, Ph.D. (Jane Park) was another incisive comic creation. Ryan (John McGinty) is at first somewhat laissez-faire about the proceedings, but he is also deaf and uses ASL to communicate, a detail amplified by two ASL translators included in the production. As with several of the characters, more will be eventually revealed.
Beth (Myra Lucretia Taylor) was by far the most balanced and grounded and was the facilitator of the breakout group I was in. The performance seemed especially authentic in those interactive moments and I know I offered more opinions than I expected to. She was also humble, refusing our entreaties to take the leadership of the association when the question was raised.
How the leadership question WAS resolved in this particular performance arguably brought the interactive concept to its fullest realization, and the introduction of a crisis involving Rachel’s son, Teo (Joe Montoya) overwhelms the squabbling and prompts an exhibit of camaraderie that feels intentional in its embrace of a cliche because the author doesn’t allow it a pat and tidy resolution. The story ends with an extended, revealing, and perfectly delivered monologue from the apathetic George (Nathan Darrow) that casts so many of the play’s ideas in a different light.
Block Association Project questions our common assumptions about community, and its most subversive take is that it may indeed be a sham. How does a society that venerates social systems and inclusiveness normalize refugees, homeless individuals, and nomads even while relegating them to otherness?
Featuring Nathan Darrow, Ceci Fernández, Lauren Lane, John McGinty, Joe Montoya, Jane Park, Myra Lucretia Taylor, & Anne-Marie Trabolsi
ASL Interpreters: Amber Marince, Cathleen Riddley, and Jon Nelson Wolfe
Block Association Project
Part of the 2021 Humana Festival of New American Plays
Available through online streaming through May 1, 2021
Actors Theatre Direct
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music, and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.