Not too many times have I had the opportunity to attend a play in which as much input is expected from the audience as is given by the actors. Playwright Mariah MacCarthy’s off-off Broadway play Mrs. Mayfield’s Fifth-Grade Class of ’93 20-Year Reunion goes beyond interactive. The total immersion one experiences at the apartment in Queens where the play takes place may seem off-putting and awkward at first, but the result is a surprising sense of having been in a place transformed by theatre.
Upon arriving at the play’s location in Astoria (the exact details of which are undisclosed until your ticket is purchased), the audience is guided by director Leta Tramblay, who explains the rules of the show: you are about to enter a safe space where a green sticker means “interact with me” and a red sticker means “I’m just watching.” The audience may do as they wish and have fun, even drink alcohol (for a donation) and please use the bathroom at the beginning of the play as it will be used during the show.
Mrs. Mayfield is less like British Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More than expected and more like going to a party where you don’t know anyone and you don’t have to because there’s so much drama going on it’s exciting anyway. The moments before the start of the play are thrilling because you don’t really know who in the apartment are audience members and who are actors””everyone is wearing nametags and mingling, and everyone is pretending to be 30 years old and a member of Mrs. Mayfield’s fifth-grade class (even though I was wearing a red tag I was asked if I was still with Will, whom I explained had run off with Robert”¦such a shame).
Little by little it becomes clear that we are in Amanda’s (Nicki Miller) apartment. She has brought this group of 30-somethings together as an unofficial reunion of sorts, inspired by something she received from their old middle school: a letter she had written to herself in 1993 for a time capsule project. What starts of as a carefree, somewhat sophisticated party becomes a hot mess when old, painful memories are unearthed and it is discovered that this was one batch of seriously messed up fifth graders.
From suicide to sex-changes, Mrs. Mayfield addresses several serious topics, though not quite as thoroughly as to create a final takeaway other than perhaps the acknowledgement that the things that happen during childhood affect us for the rest of our lives. That said, the actors do a splendid job of negotiating the different conversations that are happening in different parts of the room at once, and making sure that the audience does not miss any important plot twists. The hour and a half play leaves much room for improvisation and the actors take their time, speaking to audience members and developing relationships””like you would at a party””to truly make you feel like part of the action.
The truly memorable performances came from Lindsey Austen, who plays Robin, Amanda’s best friend and former bullied fifth grader at the hands of Crystal (formerly Chris) played by the energetic Lauren Hennessy. Jesse Geguzis plays the sweet, but not-all-there Jamie and does an excellent job interacting with the audience, asking questions and playing Jenga while never letting up his painfully honest and superficially innocent persona.
Mrs. Mayfield is one of the most fun theatre experiences I’ve ever had. While perhaps not the deepest of plays, its immersive character is exciting and leaves the audience with the sense that the whole world truly is a stage worth experiencing.