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.
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.
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