I won’t be the first or last person to note that 2020 has been a challenging year. It has been hard for so many reasons and day to day the world either seems to be falling apart and/or finally (hopefully) just beginning to face the need for long-overdue changes that will take time, patience, and all of our best efforts to accomplish. I have missed the respite of a darkened theatre space full of people all ready to experience the same live event together but at the same time, the quiet days have led to a lot of reflection (and a bit of peace, now that facing the potentially soul-crushing LA commute is no longer a daily occurrence). This LA Editor has been quiet but the LA theatre scene has not as each company has found ways to bring their work to the public, whether it be via free streams of past work or new opportunities to gather in smaller groups via Zoom to watch a show.
In Westwood, The Geffen Playhouse has temporarily rebranded itself as The Geffen Stayhouse, shifting their season away from events like their highly anticipated production of Macbeth over to interactive shows that can be enjoyed from home. After spending day after day in video calls, it seemed like the last thing I would ever want to do would be to sign up for yet another call, but the world premiere of “Inside the Box” seemed intriguing. Written & Performed by David Kwong, magician and “veteran cruciverbalist” (constructor of crossword puzzles) Kwong is no stranger to the stage or tv screen and it seemed like this would be a unique performance to attend during Covid – the kind of thing you could tell your grandchildren about (back when the world ended – I saw this).
This is definitely a situation where I don’t want to give too much away – suffice it to say, there are lovely surprises. You are instructed to have a few items handy before you sign on to attend the performance (items that should be easy to find in any house) and you receive a .pdf full of things that you will need to use during the show, which means you need access to a printer – something I did not have. Thankfully I had a friend close-by willing to print it out and hand it over without peeking or asking too many questions. There is a pre-show puzzle as well, which is useful not only to get you in the spirit of things but also to keep you occupied as you wait for the show to start if you are as obsessive about arriving on time as I am (even in the virtual world). The check-in process is quick and easy and you do feel welcome even as you are somewhat firmly asked/reminded that you must have your cameras on for the whole show with no fake backgrounds allowed. It’s a little social-anxiety-producing to be put in this situation with about 30 people you do not know, but the moment the ‘curtain rises’ and Kwong starts the show, he does a great job of putting everyone at ease. Either he has a memory to be envious of or his team of technicians facilitating the experience has found a way to make sure everyone gets a chance to participate – it seemed that every individual or group got to present their answer to a puzzle at least once.
I say group because one really nice thing about this show is that it only takes the price of admission for one for you to gain entry to over an hour worth of fun puzzle challenges that are appropriate for the whole family. I think one group had six or seven people engaged and another family was having dinner together as they participated. You could never produce a play quite like this in the playhouse itself, too many people would be left out and it would feel more presentational than it does. We do hear a little bit about the history of puzzles and crosswords as Kwong presents the names and stories of people who pioneered the art forms in-between ‘puzzle time’ (you have to see it to understand) but this starts to feel less like a play and more like a live NPR puzzle show – and that’s part of the charm for me.
Kwong appears in a room that he says is in his home, and that’s possible. There are no set, lighting, or prop design credits in the digital playbill. I do not consider myself to be much of a puzzler and was utterly impressed by how many people in the group clearly were yet no matter how behind I felt at times, it was delightful to watch people get so excited when they got an answer right and Kwong pulls off a fascinating puzzle related magic trick that will make you forget all of your troubles and feel like a kid again. Overall, this is a delightful experience. For those who are camera shy, be forewarned that you will miss out if you try to hide. If you are open to a unique experience, read the directions carefully beforehand and let Kwong’s calm demeanor guide you through, you will be glad you decided to attend. In fact, the show has been extended to January 3, 2021, so there are plenty of chances to join in the fun.
Written & Performed by David Kwong. Brett J. Banakis is the Creative Director. Puzzle design by Dave Shukan. Video design by Joshua Higgason. Jennifer Chambers is the directing consultant. Raquel Barreto is the Costume design consultant. Produced by Andy Jones and Dylan Pager. The Dramaturg is Amy Levinson.
This interactive experience runs 85 minutes with no intermission. Performances run through January 3, 2021.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.