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The Shop, 607 New York Ave. NW

Remaining Performances:

Tuesday, July 12 at 6 p.m.
Friday, July 15 at 10:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 20 at 6 p.m.
Saturday, July 23 at 10 p.m.

They say: “cloudism is an experiential theater performance which incorporates the audience directly into its production. A space is created for participants to explore, interact and experience, blending poetry, art and music into a unique theatrical happening. Witness! Experience! Participate!”

Matt’s Take: The plot in cloudism – to the extent that a play like it can have anything resembling a plot – starts to unfold only after the first audience member stands up. From there, its small cast does little more than act as coaches, prodding everyone in the room to pitch in and help determine what will happen on stage and where the action will go: a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure story for the avant-garde theater crowd.

Blurring the distinction between actors and their audience, cloudism breaks the fourth wall from the very moment you step into the theater. Before you can even find a seat, a man on crutches blocks your way and stares you down for several seconds. Later on, this man, who is called The Guide (Graham Pilato), will be darting around the room handing out markers and plastic balls of the sort found in jungle gyms at Chuck E. Cheese.

He and the Dancers (Mo O’Rourke and Alison Talvacchio) spend much of the play’s first half hour attempting to get the audience to break out of their traditional roles as passive spectators. It’s interesting to see which non-actors make the first moves, who follows their lead, and who sits out altogether. Rest assured the play will differ depending on how game theatergoers are to participate.

The Shop theater space, with its in-the-round setup, is as an ideal environment for this. Props are hidden around the room, and the actors use them to interact with the audience and add to the mounting commotion. Until the very end almost no words are spoken: Physical communication is what drives the action forward. Aside from gasps and laughter, for most of the play only one actor verbalizes anything at all – a woman (Allison Clapp Fuentes) who slowly circles the stage and counts out loud from one to 100, though not always in chronological order.

cloudism‘s flyer identifies no playwright – since so much depends on improvisation, there’s no real need for a script – but it does say that creator Mike Maggio conceived the play as a poem. This might be the vague monologue he gives at the end, which comes off as unnecessary. The seemingly spontaneous occurrences that precede the monologue are a better expression of the show’s ideas about the tenuous division between performers and viewers, the power of mimicry and peer-pressure, and the nebulous nature of art.

Of course, others might just see the occasion as a bit of fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

See it if: You’d enjoy questioning the basic presumptions behind theater while pretending to swordfight with an umbrella.

Skip it if: You have severe social anxiety and start shaking whenever you hear a performer ask for a volunteer.