As the lights went down on Collapse Theatre’s new production, Outside, a nervous chuckle came from a girl seated in front of me. She then turned and asked, “Did you get it?”
But that raised the question: Was there anything to get? What Collapse Theatre excels at is giving the illusion that its productions are somehow complex critiques of society rather than reflections of it, from which the only thing you “get” is what was right in front of you the whole time.
The play is the story of an Idaho family who have barricaded themselves in their house so as not to risk the myriad of dangers outside—a savage land where rape is rampant and armed socialist hordes rule the night. To pass the time, they all engage in the world as filtered through various media: Mother stays glued to romantic comedies, Son watches football, Father watches the news, and Daughter goes clubbing in Los Angeles vicariously through the Internet.
But that doesn’t last long. The family’s perfectly constructed paranoia palace comes crashing down when they are visited by the most dastardly of villains: the U.S. Census Bureau. Not only does he want to count them, but his presence fills Daughter with a powerful urge to be “raped” twice a week for 15 minutes, just like her mother.
At the conclusion of each scene, the characters retreat to their screen of choice and remain on stage sipping drinks for the duration of the two intermissions. And while that image is unsettling enough, it was super-charged by the balanced strength of the cast, who managed to fulfill the stereotypes of their characters, while adding their own unique comedic flair.
The play’s only real shortcoming was pacing—with each character lost in his or her own media-created world, oftentimes speaking more to the screen than to one another, the pace was often tedious. And though awkwardness was certainly an aim of the production, not all of it was intentional, and some of the scenes would have done better to have the characters stepping on one another’s dialog.
But what made the play work is writer Kelly Broich’s stellar ability to turn the familiar on its head. The setup and plot are a dystopian sitcom. But watching Daughter move about the stage in Mother’s wedding dress, demanding to be raped, or Mother freshen up Son’s energy drinks, it seems too preposterous to believe. That is, until the play concludes with a series of YouTube clips of real people so dead on to the characters, it’s difficult to believe Broich’s assertion that he found the clips afterwards. So what is there to get? That there’s no tricks. Outside is just a mirror. People really are that bizarre. Before getting up, the girl in front of me giggled to her friend, “My god, I think I’m scarred for life.”
Turns out, she got it after all.