Challenging. Daring. Disorienting. That's just a start in how to describe Bricolage Production Company's collaborative STRATA: Pittsburgh's First Refitnessing Center, probably the most ambitious theater event in local history.
Is it a play? Hmmm. An interactive installation art piece? Maybe. An enlightening journey of the self to perfectionhood? Well, that's as much plot as you're going to get.
It's difficult to avoid spoilers, because the production is filled with surprises. Even the venue is a secret. Your ticket order comes with instructions on where to meet, and a password. (It's hard not to think of Harpo Marx's "swordfish.") From there, each audience member is guided alone through a series of scenarios in a multi-storied maze augmented with special effects and electronics. It's different for each participant, and each time you go. (Return visits are encouraged with a $20 discount.)
The title is supposedly an acronym for Strategic Training Research and Testing Agency. The conceit is something of a New Age-y "path to iConsciousness" (which comes with an entirely fake trademark ®), alternately bright and dark, cluttered, convoluted, manipulative and shamelessly nebby. The skillfully improvisational performers take it seriously, which is part of the fun.
The credits are massive: "devised by" Jeffrey Carpenter, Gab Cody, Tami Dixon, Riley Harmon, Rob Long, Doug McDermott, Andrew J. Paul, Nina Sarnelle and Sam Turich. Cody is listed as lead writer, with Bricolage artistic director Carpenter and producing director Dixon sharing the directing credit with Turich. The cast of 23 has no "leads," only "supporting characters" for the "star": you.
Among the ironies I enjoy is the roundabout life of the performance venue, a long-time movie house remodeled into an exercise club now again repurposed as a theater. (It's not a spoiler for those who don't know the history.) Such perfect Pittsburgh "usta-be" zeitgeist. Happy 10th anniversary, Bricolage and buddies.