Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Anyone who has ever watched the TV show "Hoarders" will feel a sense of déjà vu upon entering the Curran Theatre for the latest in Carol Shorenstein Hays' series of intimate theatrical performances Curran Under Construction, a solo performance piece entitled The Object Lesson. For performer and illusionist Geoff Sobelle (along with scenic designer Steven Dufala) has filled the stage with enough boxes, chairs, lamps, and other miscellany that you must pick your way along paths* between all this stuff. You are invited to look inside the boxes, sometimes finding instructions there of things to doe.g., take the box to someone who looks nice and say "I think this is for you," or to take a pen from inside the box and on the outside write the most valuable thing you have ever stolen.
Soon you will discover that many of the boxes are actually low stools, and you and your fellow audience members will end your explorations, take a seat, and the show will begin. For the next 90 minutes, Sobelle will take you on a journey of memory, opening a few of the boxes and recalling the moments in his life which the objects inside bring to mind.
This, however, is the most simplistic description, and what Sobelle accomplishes is so much richer and more complex than the mere recovery of object and recounting of memory. He deals not just in long-term memory, as when he recounts a youthful summer spent in the south of France, but plays with short-term memory, as well, making on-the-spot sound recordings that, moments later, are transformed into something entirely unexpected and charmingly delightful.
Sobelle is a brilliant performer: graceful, humble, wise, ironic, welcoming. He throws in objects that seem out of place, letting you at first think he's simply being absurd, then challenging your assumptions about the purpose of those objects, or their meaning. Believe me, you will never think of hockey skates in the way you have before.
Sobelle is also an illusionist, and The Object Lesson closes with a magnificent illusion in which he takes his audience first through a day, and then an entire life, simply by removing item after item from a seemingly bottomless box in an effect that left me both deeply moved and thoroughly delighted.
The Object Lesson plays through October 18, 2015, at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. Tickets are available through Eventbrite. Between now and the end of the year, the show will also play in Columbus, Ohio, at the Wexner Center for the Arts, at the Walker Center in Minneapolis, and the Fisher Center at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.
*If you are wondering why you have to navigate the stage, it's because the shows in Curran Under Construction all take place there, while the rest of the theater is being renovated.