The Flea Theater
41 White St. between Broadway & Church St.
Thursday - Sunday through January 25, $15-$35
If edgy participatory theater is your thing, especially with a distinctly controversial political bent, then Take Care is the show for you. The world premiere by the Bats, the Flea Theater’s resident company of young actors, is an immersive production that essentially begins the moment you enter the building on White St. in TriBeCa. You will be led downstairs to the basement one at a time by a Bat to a folding chair, where you decide how much you want to participate – featured participants will be given solo responsibilities, group participants will always be accompanied by at least one other participant, and voyeurs will mostly stay in the background. For nearly fifty minutes, the Bats use the central motif of hurricane destruction to explore climate change and racism in contemporary America, interacting with audience members who might shout a racist slur, get doused by a hose, or share a personal story. Each participant receives a unique series of precisely timed instructions, and everyone has enough time to prepare for their involvement. (Several monitors around the room display a running clock, in addition to various related videos.) “Everything you do tonight is perfect and absolutely right,” Rebeca Rad assures the crowd near the start. “If you mess up, it’s right. If you’re late, it’s right. If you laugh or cry or sit down early, it’s the absolutely right thing to do.”
Written by Elastic City’s Todd Shalom and Niegel Smith and directed by Smith, the Flea’s new artistic director, Take Care is a vibrant, thought-provoking, and fun show, even if the links between hurricanes, global warming, segregation, civil rights, and individual identity are often quite a stretch. The eager, energetic cast, which consists of Tommy “Tsunami” Bernardi, Maki Borden, Rachel Lin, Ashton Muñiz, Derek Christopher Murphy, Rad, Brittane Rowe, Isabella Sazak, Ryan Stinnett, and Catherine Woodard, does an excellent job of keeping things moving (along with choreographer and understudy Ethan Hardy) and making sure the participants are kept busy, even though audience members might at times find themselves outside their comfort zones, which of course is part of the point. I asked to be a featured participant, and I ended up with a scary responsibility that had me agonizing for forty minutes and fifty seconds (it was scheduled for 40:50), as it sets in motion events that result in a rather potent open discussion. No matter which participant level you choose, Take Care will have you looking deep inside, facing some harsh realities about yourself as well as where America is as a country today. Smith calls the show “a perfect storm to expose the ways we take care of and neglect one another,” and it is indeed very much about both the individual and the collective and how we consider our fellow human beings. Each performance is significantly different, as it changes depending on the audience. It also has a major effect on the Bats themselves; the night we went, one of the actors broke down in tears at the conclusion, moved by the power of what had just happened. It’s not for everyone, but adventurous theatergoers should not hesitate to become part of what is going on in the Flea’s basement Thursday through Sunday nights through January 25.