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The Object Lesson

Contemporary happening and art installation as part of a meditation on our relationship to objects is ultimately a magical evening of theater.

Geoff Sobelle (on table) in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Geoff Sobelle (on table) in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

When the audience enters the New York Theatre Workshop, it has been transformed into a storage unit or attic. Invited to come early and explore, the audience finds hundreds of boxes both opened and sealed, lamps, records, sports equipment, musical instruments, books, chairs, both a canoe and a row boat hanging from the ceiling, and the drawers of a huge library card catalogue filled with additional smaller items. Some are amusingly labeled “Give this box to a stranger,” etc., while others give no clue as to what is inside. Come early to The Object Lesson as there are no conventional theater seats. One either gets one of the sofas or chairs if you come early, or one of the solid boxes if you arrive later.

Illusionist/actor Geoff Sobelle’s show is a combination of happening, art installation, and a meditation on the role objects have in our lives. Using audience participation, objects both hidden and seen, and magical illusion, Sobelle forces us to examine our relationship to the objects in our lives as well as how they ultimately define us when seen altogether as the detritus of a life. Performed in 11 segments with no intermission, The Object Lesson is not for everyone, but for those willing to go with the flow and give themselves up to Sobelle’s droll reflection, self-examination and visual theatrics, the evening is fascinating and rewarding.

Geoff Sobelle in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Geoff Sobelle in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

After the audience is seated and the lights dim, Sobelle appears among the crowd and begins to set up a cozy little room from objects he takes out of cartons: chair, table, gramophone, record player, telephone, etc. It is as though he is recreating someone’s life – or his own. He then has a phone conversation to which we are only privy to one side in which he states that “There’s a fine line between vintage and crap.” He then tells a story of his student days in France (with assorted props) which ends with a surprising and magical lighting effect. Next he goes on a date with a woman seated near his space, a plant or a random audience member we never know for sure. He creates a dining room and makes her the first course of salad in the most unusual way possible. What with the wine, the dance and the snow, this becomes a most romantic encounter.

He then asks two members of the audience at opposite ends of the space to read on microphones all the objects in their wallet or purse. Ultimately they must decide what is the most valuable item and what has the least value, a sobering activity. Finally, he packs up his little room and finds that one box that appeared to be empty can’t be used. He begins to pull out from the same box, faster and faster, an endless assortment of items that define an entire man’s life from young adulthood through old age and after. The illusion is magical, the meaning momentous: our lives are defined by objects we could not live without at various times in our lives – or are the objects controlling us.

Geoff Sobelle in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Geoff Sobelle in a scene from “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Sobelle is both personable and charming, connecting with the audience at all times. His discourse reminds us also that memory is another storehouse of our lives as we both recall previous events and relive them differently. The amazing scenic installation is the work of Steven Dufala which leaves not an inch undecorated. So too Christopher Kuhl’s lighting which making use of countless lamps that are around the space is as much part of the magic and illusion as the other objects. Nick Kouritides’ sound design is also part of the fun but it would not be fair to give away the surprising elements with this. It is hard to know how much of the evening is due to director David Neumann and how much is Sobelle’s idea and execution. However, a tribute to both, the segments flow one into the other without leaving any dead time.

Geoff Sobelle’s The Object Lesson has appeared in various forms since 2013 in Philadelphia as well as Brooklyn Academy of Music’s New Wave Festival. This is a unique evening that will make you look with new eyes at the world around you. On the other hand, if you are looking for a plot and characters, this meditative happening is probably not for you.

The Object Lesson (extended through March 19, 2017)

New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-460-5475 or visit http://www.NYTW.org

Running time: one hour and 45 minutes with no intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (358 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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