Good things come in small packages at new TOOP show

Photo Courtesy of Leah Friess

There are moments when theater feels boring — like everything has been done a million times before and no matter what the company tries to do, no matter how many “new” techniques it uses, nothing will ever feel innovative again. However, for anyone who is currently experiencing that sensation, TOOP, the only student-run theater group on campus, is providing a breath of fresh air in the form of their new show, “TOOP Your Own Adventure.”

The performance is a strange combination of childhood memories and adult humor, a mix that seems part young adult novels, part and part sincere originality. It feels a bit outlandish at times, and the blend works at some points better than others. However, overall it appeals to the crowd, while keeping them engaged.

The show itself can be played out in multiple ways. There are decisions that have to be made by the audience just about every step of the way, and these choices affect the viewing experience for the entirety of the show. From the very beginning, the audience is presented with a choice for the host of the evening. There are four choices, and I won’t reveal them all to you here, but the one chosen when I attended was “Hipster Twitter.” The host then remained in that character for the entire production.

Marketing-wise, TOOP struck a goldmine with the concept of a different show every night. I know that I, for one, would appreciate seeing the other ways the performance can play out.

Once a choice is made, the audience is left to wonder about the other options and, quite frankly, even in four nights it’s impossible to see all the possible combinations. It’s a very clever technique for keeping the house full every night, however, even without that lure, it’s a good enough show to warrant seeing more than once, mostly due to its innovative and complex structure.

The production is interesting for a myriad of reasons, some of which are far too complex to be explained and some of which are just downright strange. This “play” is in fact 30 very short plays compressed into one extremely entertaining show. The idea is not unique to TOOP — the concept actually comes from a Chicago-based experimental theater troupe called “The Neo-Futurists.”

However, all 30 of these mini-plays are written by members of the UR community. Two were written by alumni, five were written by students currently studying abroad and the rest were written by students in Rochester.

According to Director and junior Eric Cohen, the show was “a way to keep people involved in the group, and because of that it has a vast variety of styles and approaches.” Acknowledging the incredible diversity and occasional disjointedness of the mini plays, he added, chuckling, that “it would be boring if it were just [his] mind.”

And these plays are anything but boring. Some were sad and poignant, while others were extremely funny. On occasion, they would be incredibly awkward or make the audience uncomfortable. At the best of times, they were a combination of them all.

It’s a big feat, but these plays manage to create multiple emotions and occasional character depth, despite their brevity. One short play entitled “Retiring to Florida” deals with the idea of God’s retirement — and he’s taking the whole family with him because, after all, Jesus has never been to Disney World.

The play centers around God announcing his retirement to St. Peter, describing his replacement (a Ms. Lucy Fir — just reread that until you get the joke), and comforting Peter while reiterating that he can’t come with God. The line “Oh my human, I’m late!” in particular got big laughs from the small audience.

Even this sketch, one of the most humorous in my opinion, had a poignant moment when St. Peter, whimpering all the while, cries “you can’t just abandon us like this!” The breadth of emotion these plays were able to create were vast.

They weren’t all amazing. There were several that were so strange it was hard to get the point. There were some that were just a little off the mark.However, part of the beauty of these super-short plays is that when one flops, it’s followed very quickly by another, and there was never a time in my experience where there were two bad plays consecutively.

Cohen called this play a “snapshot into the minds of the group.”

If that’s true, then this is  a truly crazy collection of people. But they do create an exceptional production, and fit in well with the catchphrase of TOOP: “We’re actors, we’re the opposite of people!”

Howard is a member of the class of 2013.

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