by Case Aiken · October 19, 2013
Indie Artists on New Plays #12: Case Aiken looks at The Downtown Loop playing at 3LD Art & Technology Center
A new work by playwright Ben Gassman and director Meghan Finn being presented at the 3LD Art and Technology Center, The Downtown Loop places the audience on a New York City tour bus and follows a tour guide (GREG CARERE) who rants wildly while dropping nuggets of information about things along his route. Throughout it all, he bickers with a trainee of his (SAM SOGHOR), flirts with attractive tourists (MIA JESSUP and SARAH MOLLO-CHRISTENSEN), and slowly breaks down as he periodically encounters a lost love (KEELIE A. SHERIDAN). This is a work about conflict, personal and professional, viewed from an outsider’s perspective, and that perhaps made it more relatable. If this was a work where the tour guide monologued his inner thoughts and depicted the source of his turmoil through flashbacks, we’d be able to see the cracks in the narrative, but instead we’re free to infuse his plight with our own neuroses. I related to this tour guide, despite never being a guide, nor even a passenger on one of those tour buses. By the end, every missed career opportunity and “one that got away” that I ever experienced was bubbling to the surface.
New York City itself plays a large part in conveying the story. At one point, the trainee refers to it as his “Demon God”, which may be the most perfect description of New York that I’ve ever heard. For a work about internal conflict, it is the perfect backdrop. It is fascinating for all its history, but also suffocated by it.
The atypical storytelling, however interesting, was not what kept drawing my attention. The greatest strength of the show (and perhaps its greatest weakness) is the extremely impressive visual displays used throughout to simulate the experience of riding atop a tour bus through the city, provided by video designer, Jared Mezzocchi, and set designer, David Ogle. Projectors are mounted all throughout the space, creating a fully enwrapping screen, upon which omnidirectional video of city streets are displayed. Were I fresher to New York, I might have even been introduced to some parts of the island, but I was nonetheless mesmerized by the all-encompassing imagery. Turning onto familiar city streets and seeing recordings of the active life of the city is an interesting experience. The effect is similar to a theme park ride, but this is of course only a very engrossing backdrop for the drama of the piece. Unfortunately, at times, the impressive design elements of the show are too engaging for the story being presented to keep up. I found myself so eager to inspect the various components of the design, that I sometimes just wanted to take it all in, rather than listen to our tour guide. Maybe that was the point.
As a side note, I should point out that throughout there is the incorporation of some live video, used mainly to provide additional viewing angles for scenes taking place below the audience’s seating area (which has a transparent floor).
Ultimately, this show prompted the highest praise that a work of art can elicit: it made me feel something. Now, those feelings were rooted in shared hostility, self-loathing, and personal doubt, but those feelings were very real and that was certainly invigorating. I definitely enjoyed this show, in part because it perfectly summarized my opinion of New York as a “Demon God”, but mostly for its blunt assessment of existence and impressive technical features. Also, there are free hotdogs. That definitely helped.