By Sam Myers; Directed by Nick Auer and Max Pendergast
Produced by Brouhaha Theatre Project
Off Off Broadway, Immersive Play
Runs through 8.19.18
Prospect Park, Brooklyn
by Asya Danilova on 8.16.18
Alexandra Tweedley and Mary Anne Bodnar in Heydays. Photo by John Cappetta.
BOTTOM LINE: An immersive theatrical experience, Heydays takes you deep onto the grounds of Prospect Park and into the bittersweet moments of high school friendship.
Some of us are nostalgic for the high school years, when love, friendship and dreams blossomed. Others wish to never be reminded of that mess. But what if there was a way to rewrite your past at the exact point where everything went wrong? Would it change your current self? Heydays, an immersive theater experience by Brouhaha Theatre Project, takes a group of 16 audience members down memory lane and the paths of Prospect Park to find out.
Be sure to wear your walking shoes in order to be able to keep up with Tucker (Hanna Allerton). Inspired by the book written by her high-school friend Phil (John Goodman), Tucker wants to change the past by reenacting and tweaking it. So she organized a reunion for her friends that aims to recreate their graduation picnic. She even wrote down the dialogue between friends that day, from which we read at some point. Our entire hour-long promenade threads a series of scenes “replayed” over and over as twenty-something-year-olds try to figure out their teenage mistakes.
It is bittersweet to relive coming-of-age days, even if they are not your own. Chances are Heydays will make you revisit memories of getting drunk with your friends on alcohol stolen from your parents’ stash, or the moment you started to doubt that you would be with your high school sweetheart forever. Sharing sandwiches and drinks from red solo cups (culinary design by Lydia O’Brien) under Prospect Park's lush green canopy brings the group closer together and increases the feeling of participation in some sort of a ritual. The original music by Nick Auer, performed live on the guitar or through speakers, immerses the audience in the nostalgic atmosphere.
But that is only one side of Heydays. There is also the cruelty of a tender age, full of lies, bullying, and betrayal. Playwright Sam Myers leaves none of the ugly stuff behind, yet he doesn’t turn his play into a sobbing melodrama. The cast does a wonderful job maintaining intimate trust and making us feel like their accomplices. The audience gets separated into groups, so you won’t be able to follow every plot line or meet all the characters up close. This means the nuances of different relationships might not be entirely clear, something that bothered me at first. But then I realized this is exactly like high school: you hear some rumors, you witness some scenes, and you fill in the blanks to the best of your ability.
A lot of critical information is presented in the beginning: Tucker, Phil, and others quickly talk about the purpose of this reunion and the group dynamics as we briskly walk towards the bushier parts of the park. You are at disadvantage if you are in the back of the crowd, but even if you can hear everything, it’s difficult to digest information about multiple people whom you haven’t met yet. When Heydays starts to fork and we finally get to hear different characters’ stories, the experience becomes increasingly more absorbing.
Heydays takes the full advantage of the park’s secluded paths, bridges, and underpasses. Site-specific choreography by Mary Anne Bodnar creatively adapts to the landscape and architecture, leaving you craving for more. The scene of two runners (Alexandra Tweedley and Mary Anne Bodnar) dancing along an empty path as the audience watches from the bridge above is a magical performance in and of itself. Heydays successfully balances dance and spoken narrative, skillfully playing with the scale of the spaces it claims. From the spectacular panoramic opening scene, to the intimacy of a two-person audience on a plaid blanket, this journey in time and in space is masterfully executed.
Even the weather seems to be well “orchestrated,” at least at the performance I attended. It started drizzling at the exact appropriate moment, when the dancers dressed as runners were finishing their meditative routine under the bridge. It poured while we shared some booze and watched the dramatic turn in Tucker’s story unfold. As darkness gradually fell and the fireflies lit up, they were soon joined by lanterns for the procession to the final scene. It’s hard to tell whether stepping into mud while listening to an uneasy conversation between two boys on a bench is an essential part of the experience, but small details like this underline how Heydays achieves a state of total confluence with its chosen environment.
(Heydays plays at Prospect Park, Brooklyn, through August 19, 2018. Running time is 60 minutes with no intermission. Performances are 8/16, 8/17, 8/18 and 8/19 at 7. Tickets are $30 and are available at heydaystheshow.com.)
Heydays is by Sam Myers. Directed by Nick Auer and Max Pendergast. Sound Design and Original Music by Nick Auer. Choreography by Mary Anne Bodnar. Culinary Design by Lydia O’Brien.
The cast is Mary Anne Bodnar, Lydia O’Brien, Hanna Allerton, John Goodman, Anette Hammond, Tom Mezger, Daina Njuguna, Dan Kuan Peeples, Alexandra Tweedley, and Ciaran Walsh.