In a devastatingly authentic Bushwickian apartment, within earshot of Troutman Street’s hip crowds and hipper bartenders, an experiment takes place. Kitchen Sink Experiment(s), playwright Colby Day’s latest collaboration with Crashbox Theater Company, is an exploration of human interaction and co-habitation, fighting and reconciling, and the power of observation, played out by an affable twenty-something couple and an unassuming young scientist.
Brian (Matthew K. Davis) and Simone (Lena Hudson) are struggling for cash and living on opposite schedules, so decide to invite a scientist (Rachel Lin) into their home to observe their habits in return for payment. What begins as a series of awkward, self-conscious interactions descends into a stream of soul-bearing soliloquies and the development of latent rifts.
It is unclear how much of a hand production designer Joel Soren had in rearranging and adapting director Andrew Scoville’s apartment for the play, as it exists as an entirely convincing, lived-in space. Whatever he did, it worked extremely well. A fellow audience member felt so at home in a stranger’s flat that she elected to pour herself a glass of wine from the drinks cabinet, before being lightly discouraged by a company member. The Bushwick flat-cum-set facilitates complete immersion in Day’s play, which feels as if it couldn’t really take place in a traditional theatre. The surroundings act as a touchstone in transporting the audience into the private life of the characters, an architectural metaphor for the act of observing.
Davis and Hudson play their roles fairly well, but only really come into their own when the scientist is forgotten and the real drama develops. Both play off of each other well and make for a convincing young couple, and when their characters become used to the scientist’s presence and their inhibitions begin to drop, their performances feel far more organic and natural. A good deal of this play is in the body language, and both seem to understand this. Their growing concerns about the state of their relationship and lives together are felt by the audience – in part because of the close quarters of the performance space, but also thanks to visceral changes of behavior and movement in the players. Real passion and palpable melancholy shine through sometimes drawn-out dialogue. The contrast between their initial and final performances is a touch too clear, however. The difference between a couple painfully aware that they are being watched and a couple that doesn’t care anymore is perhaps too obviously elucidated. This is a play about self-consciousness and false representations of self, but it feels overly performative at the start.
Lin, the audience surrogate in her role as observing scientist and reluctant sounding board of the play, did well to convey a sense of her character, despite being confined to a corner for most of the evening. Her furtive examination of Brian and Simone is alternately unsettling and funny as she finds herself in the equally unusual position of examining the private lives of strangers in their own home. When she does get the chance to speak, she is the consummately determined scientist. Inklings of humanity find their way through her sterile façade as Brian and Simone begin to question her motives and the watcher becomes the watched.
Limited to an audience of twenty, Kitchen Sink Experiment(s) is nothing if not an intimate affair. As with any play about observation, the audience is part of the experience, and with Day’s work it is made an even more integral one. The audience comes to play the scientist in this self-reflexive production, taking mental notes alongside Lin and analyzing Brian and Simone’s relationship. The very act of sitting in a stranger’s apartment to see a play makes one feel as if they are testing a hypothesis, and more than one experiment has taken place by the end of the evening. As the play draws closer to its end, Brian proclaims that ‘the experiment is over’ – an entirely appropriate, if not slightly obtuse, way to end an evening of immersive theatre.