The Tenant Pays the Rent and Then Some

08/31/2011 4:00 AM |

The Tenant
Written by Bekah Brunstetter, Sarah Burgess, Paul Cohen, Dylan Dawson, Steven Levenson, and Tommy Smith
Directed by Teddy Bergman and Stephen Brackett

In the foyer where the audience entered, the concierge is holding court, listening suspiciously for commotion on the upper levels. On the ground floor, landlords Monsieur and Madame Zy argue about one another’s culpability in their son’s death. On the second floor, self-appointed building policewoman Madame Dioz frets over her latest petition to evict the fourth floor’s oddball mother-daughter pair. And on three, settling into the apartment vacated when its previous inhabitant leapt from her window, is Trelkovsky (Michael Crane), the titular tenant in the Woodshed Collective‘s immense and immersive adaptation (through September 17) of Roland Topor’s Paris-set 1964 novel Le Locataire chimérique and Roman Polanksi’s 1976 film thereof. All this happens simultaneously in overlapping scenes, as viewers and a small army of actors march up and down the apartment building’s stairs, out into a small square bordered by a charming bistro, down into the basement bar, or past the church to the local movie theater. These places and many others are all staged inside West 86th Street’s hulking West-Park Presbyterian Church and Parish House, a beautifully set-dressed maze of rooms—some closet-sized, others big enough to fit a house, which they basically do—that co-stars in this grotesque and at times very funny psychodrama.

Guides offered directions through Woodshed’s previous free evening of site-specific choose-your-own-adventure theater, 2009’s The Confidence Man, but The Tenant‘s increasingly chaotic, vile and violent momentum benefits from a totally open itinerary. Strategically located televisions transmit crucial scenes in real time to spectators far from the main action of Trelkovsky’s growing derangement. Since this multi-strand narrative is more character- than plot-driven, sticking with one actor proves a popular strategy, and the dozen or so viewers who follow Crane’s every movement provide additional, metatheatrical cause for Trelkovsky’s paranoid delusions. The acting is by and large very strong, especially in long, intimate scenes like a drunken game of “canard, canard, goose” in Trelkovsky’s apartment, the Zys’ fight over a mummified talisman, or the off-air banter between two radio play performers. There are wordless moments of great visual power too, as when roughly half the cast begins pacing the halls dressed like the deceased former tenant in blonde wig and red dress, or when the silhouetted man across the square stares insistently into Trelkovsky’s room. Whatever fragments of the various stories one comes away with, The Tenant‘s success can be gauged by the extent of its immersion. After two hours one feels less like a spectator and more like an inhabitant of a beautifully dilapidated old building whose tenants are all different degrees of crazy.

(Photo: Emily Fishbein)