Sunday, December 18, 2016

"Public Exposure" by Market Garden Theatre

On a frigid and snowy Saturday night, I arrived on a not-very-well-plowed street in an industrial neighborhood filled with semis. I entered the building at 451 Taft Street in Northeast Minneapolis (not too far from the new Crane Theater) and made my way down the stairs to a long hallway that smelled funny and was cold. If not for the signage at various points, I would have been unsure I was in the right place. But I was in the right place, the right place to see a smart new play in a perfectly suited found space with a small cast that was so great and natural I almost felt like I was eavesdropping on a real conversation. This was my first experience with Market Garden Theatre, but not my first experience with a Keith Hovis penned work, and I continue to be impressed with his evolving talents. First he amused with his very Fringey musicals (including Teenage Misery which recently received an encore production), then he moved to tears with the lovely trio of short musicals Pioneer Suite, and now he disturbs and intrigues with a play about our modern world and how quick we are to publicly shame people for their mistakes.

Marci Lucht and Nick Wolf (photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
Public Exposure plays out in real time (about 100 minutes) as employees of a typical American corporation commiserate about work, bosses, and layoffs. Ford (Nick Wolf) was laid off a few months ago, and has since been hosting former and current employees in a continuous party. He's crashing at a space in a building his father owns, living on alcohol and fast food. His friend Jen (Marci Lucht) arrives with a new business idea - they publicly shame someone based on the stupid things they've posted on social media, for a big price. Jen recently did this to fellow employee and threat to her job Laura (Bethany McCade, appearing on video only), and was surprised at and inspired by the response. New young employee Hannah (Marika Proctor) enters the party and becomes their first client, willing to pay big to get someone out of the way so she can keep her job. It's an ugly business, and Ford is reluctant to take part, until Jen convinces him there's big money in it, and they're not responsible for the consequences.

Nick Wolf, Marika Proctor, and
Marci Lucht (photo by Scott Pakudaitis)
The play is performed in a space that feels like the actual space where it takes place. A dark basement room with a bar, couch, and big screen on which the internet, that all important character in the story, is projected. Empty fast food containers and liquor bottles litter the space (set and props designed by Leazah Behrens). About 30 audience members sit on all sides of the fully lit room, which is at first a bit uncomfortable as the play takes place all around you. But you soon forget you're watching a play, rather it feels like you're eavesdropping on this very real and intense conversation. That's largely thanks to the cast, who all give raw and real performances, with nowhere to hide in the small space. Director Lucas Skjaret uses all areas of the space and keeps the show moving at a riveting pace.

Public Exposure explores some very relevant themes. We put our whole lives out there on social media for anyone to see, without thinking of the consequences. We're so quick to attack someone who makes a mistake or says a stupid thing, but is that the sum total of who they are? Times they are a changin', and if a 29-year-old feels out of touch and over the hill, where does that leave those of us who grew up in an age with no internet or email or cell phones? Technology is advancing faster than our ability to handle it emotionally and morally; our ethics haven't quite caught up with what technology is capable of (see also Westworld). This is a play that makes you think, that challenges your idea of the world, that makes you uncomfortable at the things happening every day.

The short run of Public Exposure ended today, but keep your eye out for more from Market Garden Theatre and Keith Hovis.