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The Car Play Project. At Westmont College, Saturday, December 2.

Reviewed by Charles Donelan

Following a busy fall hosting the Lit Moon World Shakespeare Festival, Westmont College continues to explore innovative concepts in theater, most recently with last weekend’s The Car Play Project. The audience gathered at 7 p.m. at the edge of a parking lot where 16 automobiles were circled around a central pavilion structure lit with Christmas lights and stocked with cookies, hot coffee, and apple cider. Every 15 minutes a horn would sound indicating the beginning of a performance cycle, and spectators would be allowed to take the designated number of audience seats within each vehicle. When the performance ended, spectators were asked to leave the car quietly and find another show with seats available.

CP_0265.jpgCar plays probably are not going to be the next big thing in commercial theater. You won’t be seeing Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in a minivan anytime soon, no matter what kind of fancy credit card rewards program you belong to. The format puts a significant limit on the number of people who can see a play at any given time, and there is also a built-in intensity that’s not for everyone. The plays were labeled with both titles and ratings — G, PG, PG-13, R — and the analogy to film was both useful and accurate. There were moments that felt like we were magically transported through the looking glass of the big screen to the imaginary “inside” of a motion picture. This could be exciting in a dreamy, romantic sort of way, as it was in “Car as Self” by Michael Conrad, which featured a very convincing Heather Bancroft as a pajama-clad victim of denial.

And it could be unnerving, as in “We’re Not Animals,” an ultra low-budget live horror show by UCSB’s Hank Willenbrink, starring Vero Cortes and Marie Ponce. It could also be disconcertingly familiar, reminiscent of awkward times inside and outside automobiles — times perhaps best left forgotten. But this was a great experiment, and one that gave students the opportunity to perform a play as many as 40 times during the course of three days. Bravo to Mitchell Thomas for taking the wheel of this unusual parking job.

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