Four shows might sound like a lot to see in one weekend, but at the La Jolla Playhouse’s 2015 Without Walls (WoW) Festival, that was just a taste of what the event offered. There were more than 21 site-specific and immersive theatre projects ranging from drama, opera, dance and family friendly entertainment. The fourth wall was more than broken. It was completely obliterated, which often resulted in exhilarating experiences.
The festival included stories staged in areas that might not be familiar to theatregoers, such as Ian’s Garden located behind the Playhouse’s prop shop. That is where the Moxie Theatre presented Every Path, which had an enjoyably mysterious quality throughout the 25-minute running time. Up to 20 people followed signs to view various possible life outcomes for an intelligent young woman. Nuanced acting from the likes of Moxie Theatre co-founder, Jennifer Eve Thorn, Kaja Amado Dunn and Anna Rebek, along with Hannah Ryan’s adventurous direction made for an engrossing existential tale.
A far stranger journey was UC San Diego Theatre & Dance’s A Completely Factual Tour. Explorers visiting UCSD’s Galbraith Hall were given headphones for an audio tour about the history of that area of campus. Nothing went as planned as a troublemaking voice took over the headsets and asked different tasks to be performed by each individual group member.
David Jacobi’s plot was a bit hard to follow, especially when the spirit of “Fake Stonehenge” came to life during an extended climax. On the plus side, his writing had refreshingly deadpan humor and an anarchic spirit appropriate for the WoW Festival.
Two strong offerings this year, Romulus Kilgore’s Mobile Happiness Bazaar and Grounded, featured compelling central performances. UC San Diego Theatre & Dance was responsible for the family friendly Romulus Kilgore’s Mobile Happiness Bazaar.
Bennett Fisher wrote the upbeat interactive piece and starred as the unapologetically optimistic Romulus. For a dollar, he attempted to cure several viewers of their “unhappiness.” If this sounds like a fishy idea, Fisher’s magnetism and good-natured comical dialogue were hard to resist.
Director, Jesca Prudencio, turned Galbraith Lawn into a joyful environment, especially in her staging’s of musical sequences, which included “When the Saints Go Marching In” and Stevie Wonder’s popular song, “Happy Birthday.” Prudencio and Fisher previously collaborated on Campo Maldito at the 2014 Wagner Theater Festival at UCSD and Romulus Kilgore was evidence of how well they collaborate together.
While the majority of selections at WoW were world premieres, one of the exceptions was the timely character study, Grounded at the Potiker Theatre Trap Room. A previous version helmed by Julie Taymor, starred Anne Hathaway and was performed at The Public Theater in New York. The Ubuntu Theater Project along with the San Diego Repertory Theatre joined forces to examine the life of a fighter pilot (Heather Ramey) assigned to control drones on a Las Vegas base after becoming a mom.
Ramey acted with so much fiery emotion, that it could be easy to take the crew behind the scenes for granted. Emile Whelan’s direction created a psychologically intense atmosphere. Adam Larsen’s projections, Andrew Vargas’ sound design and Anthony Jannuzzi’s lighting drew attendees into the pilot’s dark world.
Those that missed WoW last weekend should know that three plays are still running in October. Healing Wars, Three Sisters and The Car Plays: Interchange have extended dates. Unfortunately, The Car Plays is sold out, but at least there are opportunities to see the two other productions.
WoW Festival is still a relatively new annual celebration, yet the organization and execution was surprisingly well managed. There was no shortage of creativity and the event deserves to keep growing throughout the upcoming years. Perhaps even more locations in the America’s Finest City will be transformed for the participants.