by Collin McConnell · September 6, 2014
Mike Iveson, Peter McCabe, Daphne Gaines | Carl Skutsch
I never really thought buying, selling, and trading stock was going to be all that fun. But Trade Practices got me thinking a bit differently about how I invest myself: what happens when I have to choose what aspect of the play I see based on what stock I buy?
Economics as a basis for theatrical form: sign me up.
Trade Practices has a good deal going for it from the outset (for someone like me, anyway). It is a smartly woven choose-your-own-adventure play. It is multi-authored by indie theater stalwarts Qui Nguyen (of Vampire Cowboys fame), Erin Courtney (Obie winner and Guggenheim Fellow), Eisa Davis (Obie winner), Robert Lyons (Artistic Director of the New Ohio Theater), KJ Sanchez (CEO of American Records), and Chris Wells (Obie winner). It is presented by HERE (a consistently solid producing house, and one I eagerly follow) - not to mention co-created and directed by HERE Artistic Director Kristin Marting. And it is a site specific, environmental piece on Governor's Island (one of my favorite places in the city to visit).
The set up: the Tender family trade (and dynasty) is the production of high quality paper products (among which is, of course, legal tender). It is the latter half of the 2000's, however, and the economy is on the fritz - and the fate of paper money (and thus the Tender family dynasty) hangs in the balance. But something... bigger is afoot...
How the story unfolds, however, is in your hands. Between scenes, you meet on the trading floor to learn more about the world at large through your anchors, Lauren (Daphne Gaines) and Alex (Mike Iveson, Jr.)... who may or may not be having an affair, and which may or may not be influencing their own feelings in how best to guide you through the experience of the play (their scenes thrive on the discomfort of just not-quite-knowing what's going on between them). There are four groups to choose from to follow - the Owners, Management, Communications, or the Workers. In order to follow them, you must hold stock in them, by buying or trading as the performance goes on. And, of course, those stock prices fluctuate, so follow your gut, as trading closes quickly.
There is much excitement in this, and the ambition of it is great: talk to the actors or, better, the people around you to see if you want to trade up to a different story or not (so long as you can) - really: build connections with strangers quickly through the pressure of the environment.
The play itself has a similarly ambitious reach which is engaging and exciting to be among. A play about a paper company and the collapse of the economy may not be the most inticing plot (I went for the set up, not the story itself), but it is very clear from the outset that this is much more than just a political drama - something of the supernatural is seeping into this building and deep into these people.
But here I must make a disclaimer: I can only speak to a small part of this play. I was not my usual risk-taker self and instead opted to follow only one story line (for no reason other than I was incredibly intruigued). There was much I missed (as will be anyone's case), and thus much still to discover. And so as I will be unable to say much more to the story, before I say anything more, what I saw was fascinating, and kept me both laughing and in shock, so much so that I had to see my story through to the end. I am incredibly curious what was happening throughout the rest of the building.
And yet, this experience is not as fruitful as it could be. The production on a whole lacked a bit in follow-thru. The trading floor was an intriguing way to pull us all out of our comfort zone, but there was never enough time to really get us to be willing to reach out to strangers. And the story itself felt as though (at least through my experience) that it was reaching for something grander, something much more epic that it just never quite achieved. The final scene, a whiskey-sipping moment of reflection after all has come crashing down, was gorgeous, and I could only imagine just how much more poignant it would be had the play reached as far as it seemed to aspire to.
But I'm still laughing. I'm still thinking.
And I'm still curious.
So take a risk: pack a lunch and spend an afternoon on a beautiful island watching the Fall set in and the world come crashing down.