Sunday, July 14, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 19, 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 24, 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 27, 8:30 p.m.
They say: “Two channels, one room. Audio is delivered through wireless two-channel headphones. Dialogue, sound effects, music – you choose what you want to hear. And get ready to debrief with your friends: No two individual show experiences are the same.”
Entering into Studio Theater’s upstairs black box space for AVAdventure ProductionDouble Freakquency, I, along with every other audience member, am handed a set of padded black headphones and given instructions by some friendly and clear stage managers for how to use my assisted listening device. No, this is not the Sunday matinee and I am not a senior citizen or otherwise hard of hearing. These headphones are the tool that will propel me through the next 45 minutes of “interactive audio theater” in a production that will both test my sanity and tease my brain.
The basic gist: Double Freakquency is the story of ex- roommates Renee (Caitlin Carbone) and Alex (Summer McCarley) who now live in neighboring apartments separated only by perhaps the thinnest walls ever constructed. Alex hasn’t really moved on from being kicked out by Renee, who reportedly “needed her space,” and is mortified when Renee picks up a new roommate, TJ (Mauricio Marces). Along the way the young women engage in a series of extraordinarily passive-aggressive conversations and schemes, Alex picks up a roommate of her own, the down-on-his-luck and out-of-work Doug (Josh Blubaugh), and things eventually become more actively aggressive. Pretty straightforward, no?
Remember those headphones? They are playing two very different channels of audio which you select individually throughout the show to decide what you hear and when. Most commonly you choose which side of the wall to listen from, still hearing muffled pieces of conversation from across the way, but sometimes this means making a difficult choice between listening to the inner monologue of a character on one channel while their actual conversation is on the other. Another time it’s a smart juxtaposition of ads for anti-depressants and surly rejections from HR types versus desperate resume- pushing. In the show’s best and most clever moments, there are two scenes inhabiting the same space and you decide which you will hear and which you will just observe.
The whole thing is rather head-spinning, but if it sounds like a gimmick, think again. We are in the extraordinarily capable hands of co-writers and directors Adam Stackhouse and Liz Sykes. It took me several minutes to set aside my desire to know every single thing that was going on, stop constantly clicking my channels back-and-forth, and trust the show to reveal itself to me, and I was not led astray. Stackhouse and Sykes keep the story simple and repetitive, which proves an asset. The story remains engaging and never gets swallowed by the high concept. Instead, the dual-channel writing functions as a clear metaphor for the ways we interact with each other, often hearing only what we choose to hear.
Also helping keep things straight are the crystal-clear pantomimes of the four actors. All of the material piped in through the headphones is prerecorded, with the actors lip-syncing. Thus, their performance becomes more analogous to voice-acting in animation than traditional stage acting. Gestures and facial expressions are clear enough to convey meaning, even when you’re not listening to their vocal channel, but never go over the top. Carbone and McCarley are particularly noteworthy for their gamely miming of simultaneous dialogue and quick tonal shifts.
Double Freakquency is the perfect show for Capital Fringe, the kind of daring vision that pushes the boundaries of theater and would struggle mightily to find a producer at any traditional theater but which expands the possibilities of what can happen on stage while still telling a smashing story. The magic of theater is that no two shows are ever truly the same, but with Double Freakquency, even people viewing the same show have vastly different experiences. The only regret I have is that they don’t do the whole thing twice back-to-back to give me a chance to try again to see what I missed.
OK, Ben. This is your first review. Don’t screw it up.
Sure seem to be a lot of people in this here lobby.
Oh…they’re taking a break from Rocky Horror. Their costumes suck!
This elevator should take me to the right place.
Damn this is a slow elevator. OK, here we are…fourth floor!
My ticket?! Shit! Foiled already.
Take the stairs to the third floor and try again? Absolutely, sir.
Alright, let’s test these channels out.
Sweet mashup on channel B!
Like Office Space!
Kudos to the sound mixer. Had to turn my headphones off briefly to make sure the atmospheric noise wasn’t coming from the stage.
OK, I’m on a hair trigger here. Slow down, Ben. You’re making me spin. Channel A OR B, buddy! Choose one.
Ooh…the off button.
Tee-hee. This is strange. Although I can vaguely hear my neighbor’s channel.
OK…long enough. I’m stressing trying to figure out what’s happening.
OK, got it.
Like, you know how Shakespeare always repeats himself because people would come late and so you could still be caught up even if you missed part of the show? Or didn’t understand what the hell was going on because of that damn iambic pentameter and needed to hear it 10 times!?
Who does Alex look like?
Remember that video cube in Adam’s Morgan a couple of years ago? That thing was sweet.
See it if: You’re turned on by the idea of controlling how you experience a theatrical performance.
Skip it if: You truly can’t function in a theater without turning your cell phone off completely (the phone frequencies mess with the wireless transmission and cause static—-get ’em OFF!)