The Box Show
As Experienced at the La Jolla Playhouse’s 2022 WOW Festival
The Show & How it Works:
The audience, seated in rows facing the stage, is in a black box — theater, that is — and the performer, on stage, is in an even smaller black box — one that’s 2 feet x 3 feet! This box is raised up on stilts so the audience can see it. And the entire performance (miraculously and engagingly) takes place inside it.
Why it’s Interesting, IMHO:
“A hilarious, edgy solo piece where one woman performs 30 characters from inside a small box” sounded like a recipe for disaster unless it was exceptionally executed by someone incredibly talented. This gut instinct proved to be spot-on: Dominique Salerno is incredibly talented and executed this idea.
Initial Impression & Critical Discussion:
This show was funny from the get-go. Salerno begins with a sensible interpretation of her cramped environment: she’s enthusiastically telling her mom, over the phone, all the great things about her new — if tiny — New York apartment. Endearingly, she plays it faithfully, reporting to her mother the actual size we see on stage. After a short, entertaining scene, the lights dim and come up again, now on her in a new setting. One or two scenes in, the audience might wonder, “Okay, but how many cramped spaces are there?” The answer: more than you think.
Salerno is clever and inventive. We see her in the inside of a recording studio, in a ring box, and in the hallway of a Las Vegas hotel, playing two different characters with two rooms across the hall from each other. In another scene, she brilliantly tells the story of two teens at summer camp, letting us eavesdrop on their conversation while seeing nothing other than the two pairs of feet upside down (the girl played by her legs in ballet slippers; the boy, by her hands in jeans and oxfords). And one scene takes place in the depths of the ocean; so, not all the spaces Salerno explores are cramped. And some of the spaces she explores get cramps: she’s first a G-spot, then a baby, in a uterus.
“Surprise and delight” is a phrase being used increasingly in the marketing space. I can now better understand why; this performance is 90 minutes of surprise and delight, after which, I’d buy anything Salerno’s selling. She’s a versatile actress who’s creative and unquestionably funny, and she’s crafted an ingenious show that’s flawlessly executed.
While, for the most part, this show isn’t immersive in the conventional sense, it does bring the audience in to intimate moments and, in one scene, where she plays a lounge singer on a piano, she does acknowledge the audience* — as her character’s audience — and those in the black box applaud as if they’re with her in the lounge.
Experiential Viewpoint Expression (E.V.E.):
Embodied, 3rd person visual, 3rd person narrative, non-entity/entity*, robot
Who Should See This?
Everyone, without question, and especially if you love theater. I overheard one teenage male muttering something on his way out about how it could’ve been shorter; I disagree. I was getting kind of hungry toward the end, and I still would’ve gladly sat through another half-hour. I’ve already started dreaming up an encore scene: Salerno plays a theater-reviewer who’s in jail after teaching some teenager a thing or two about good theater.