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

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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