Youmans: Buckle up for 'Car Plays'

January 19, 2012|By Heather Youmans
  • A scene from "The Car Plays."
A scene from "The Car Plays." (Segerstrom Center…)

"The Car Plays" is not your typical theatrical experience.

Looking around before Sunday night's performance, there was no theater, cushioned seats or ushers in sight. Instead, attendees were met by a new kind of playing space: 15 cars parked on the Arts Plaza at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.

Each car's interior served as the set for one of 15 plays in "The Car Plays," which was part of the center's first "Off Center Festival," an eclectic program of performing arts that ends on Saturday. Audiences for "The Car Plays" — which will wrap up its Costa Mesa run with performances at 5:30, 7 and 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday — buckled up and experienced the electrifying intimacy of modern art on wheels.

The 15 cars were divided into three rows, and audiences could attend three cycles of performances, designated as "Street," "Road" and "Avenue." Each cycle featured five cars and five individual plays, which were written and directed by different people and altogether lasted about 50 minutes to an hour.


The neighboring South Coast Repertory had commissioned three of the 15 plays for the "Off Center Festival": "Five and a Half Weeks," "Foolish Heart" and "Easy Listening."

Throughout the evening, a team of attentive carhops helped pairs of two find their seats from car to car, even providing umbrella cover when the weather turned sour and it started to drizzle.

But once you took your seat, the real one-of-a-kind experience began.

As the carhops shut the doors, the intimacy of the space became evident. The dynamic of this proximity was unlike that of any other stage show, because the audience was forced to be emotionally and physically engaged, as they were trapped inside the play itself.

And when the actors start going, you got a rush, you felt their emotions, frustrations, elation — even the weight of their bodies shaking the car and vibrations of their bellowing voices letting out screams and laughter. All at once, the increased proximity intensified all of the senses. The night lit up when a few scenes were accompanied by the pitter-patter of rain atop car roofs.

In "The Car Plays," audience members experienced some of the strongest human emotions — anger, love and passion — up close and personal. Performers could touch the passengers, but the passengers, of course, could not touch the actors.

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