By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)
From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side posts reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. If you are interested in reviewing Off-Off Broadway, please contact me so we can discuss. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter
If you’d told me how much fun I was about to have at Found, an immersive theatrical experience in Chelsea, I wouldn’t have believed you. I entered with my mind admittedly closed, as I typically don’t enjoy absurdist hooey. Turns out I walked out making a mental list of the friends I’d encourage to go see it, particularly those who are art enthusiasts.
Look, there’s a reason that New Yorkers endure inhumane rents for apartments, where closets are converted into showers. It’s because we don’t like to be bored. We get our entertainment in unsuspecting places, from the duo belting a romantic aria on the subway platform to the man with one leg doing backflips outside the Port Authority.
I ended up finding entertainment at the cell theatre (Nancy Manochercian, founding artistic director) in Chelsea, where Found, with its “explosion of dolls” and other perverse, whimsical installations, delivered on its promise of a sensory whirlwind. This project, a collaboration between visual artist Mikel Glass and Mason Holdings, converts the townhouse theatre into a four-story visual arts exhibit with multimedia elements that include videos of little girls in beauty pageants everywhere, and a salon-type hair dryer that plays music when you stick your head in it.
Upon entry, I helped myself to a tasty green cocktail that was flowing through a system of crooked pipes, mad scientist lab-style. I found my stiff drink necessary as I meandered through oil paintings depicting strange stuff, like Bart Simpson making his way through the birth canal.
Soon I was called to the basement, where three of us were invited to choose an outfit for a woman in her underwear. She had me help her into the dress I selected. For a moment, it was like I had a personal living doll, which was in keeping with the doll theme. I was invited to hug her for 53 seconds (she had another guest set her cell phone timer) and then snap a selfie. When the job was done, she ran out of the room screaming. As we made our way upstairs, I wondered what all the selfies would look like in the next few weeks as she wears various combos of hats, shoes, and outfits.
Up in the attic, aka “Heaven,” we were met by Mikel Glass, the artist who created this world. There, surrounded by strewn-about dolls, a film projector, and a live harpist strumming exquisite melodies, Glass broke the fourth wall and engaged our group in a discussion about the show. He told us the story of his daughter’s lost doll, and what it meant to her, which got him thinking about every doll he encounters on the street, how they once all belonged to a child, and how each had a story. Glass explained that it can be boring and sleepy to walk through a typical art gallery, and he wanted to challenge the way people can experience art. He also objected to the perception of dolls as creepy.
We then proceeded to a room with, yep, lots more creepy dolls, each one of them found on the street and sent to Glass per his request. There, a woman playing an old-fashioned housewife engaged us in absurd conversation, asking questions like, “Is that your thumb? Do you have floors? What’s your blood type?” (It was later apparent she was asking if you were suitable to give a doll a home). I decided she was my favorite actress because she was as engaging and invested as she was wacky. It was later that I found out she was Tracy Weller, founder and artistic director of Mason Holdings, the company responsible for the production, which makes a lot of sense.
I was then taken to a room where all the art was made entirely out of wood, from pizza slices and tea bags to paper shopping bags and even paintings. A character forced me to give her something if I was to be allowed to touch the art. I perused my bag and gifted her a wrinkled map of Acadia National Park, which seemed to please her.
I crossed a floor of those little plastic balls you find in a ball pit to climb into a small tent, where a character invited me to add anything I wanted to a painting of my choice. I made some quick brush strokes and moved on, but enjoyed my small contribution to a collaborative art piece (even if it does look like a child’s scribblings).
Finally, I was brought to another floor where an actress in pigtails was competing in a beauty pageant. She invited me to play with a life-sized version of one of those toy structures you find in a pediatrician’s office, where you move colored blocks around various tracks. Here's where you insert your own commentary about young pageant contestants as dolls.
On the way out, in exchange for jotting down our dream for a better world on a Post-it (90% of the answers I saw on the wall were Trump-related), we were given Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It was even Cherry Garcia, my husband’s favorite.
If nothing I’ve said makes any sense, just watch this short clip. I’m really glad this video exists, because describing the show pushes the limits of my capabilities. I expect the reactions to Found will be across-the-board, from people rolling their eyes real hard to avant-garde enthusiasts who are all in. The one thing I can say for sure is: go. Why? You live in NY, and this is just the kind of batty stuff you do when you’re here. The only promise I can make is you won’t be bored.
P.S. Tickets are discounted on Halloween; the 45 minutes you spend at Found will be a worthwhile stop amid the trick-or-treating and parading.
338, West 23rd St., NYC
Through October 31
Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. firstname.lastname@example.org @elyseorecchio