Conceived and directed by Anthony Logan Cole
Produced by Stephen Miller, Miller-Coffman Productions, Jess Weiss, John Lant, Tyler Oberle, Lyle Sterne, and Dave Morrissey Jr.
Off Broadway, Immersive theatre
Runs through 12.2.18
Secret location in Midtown Manhattan
by Asya Gorovits on 11.5.18
Monica Blaze Leavitt and Chris Jumper in The HIdden Ones. photo by Kristin Pulido.
BOTTOM LINE: An intimate immersive experience about Jewish people in hiding during World War II reflects on the preservation of human dignity and cultural heritage in desperate circumstances.
“Looking for something?” asks the man in a vintage cap at the secret location of The Hidden Ones. I tell him my name and as he mentally scans his guest list for a couple seconds he sizes me up as if deciding whether I am trustworthy. As the six audience members assemble before the show starts, one woman wonders if the secrecy of the place has something to do with the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Even though just an unfortunate coincidence, this play about Jewish people in hiding is even more relevant today.
It is nearly the end of World War II. In the unnamed town of the unnamed country, two families live underground in secrecy and almost complete silence. We are led to a dimly lit space divided by sheets and seated on mattresses along the perimeter. The low-hanging canopy of a camouflage net throws shadow patterns on a table where two families of three assemble for a meal. No word is spoken, and no steps of the shoeless feet are heard.
Soothing period music plays as one of the matriarchs (Marley Madding) splits the bread into tiny pieces and, after spreading just a drop of jam on each, hands them out. Each of her flowing movements conveys great care. The graceful choreography of everyday motions (by Whitney Sprayberry) is mesmerizing. Yet the family meal, with its little silent interactions, is far from idyllic. The food and water are handled with ritualistic precision because of the scarcity of the supply. In the world of The Hidden Ones, every single object is valuable, which is reflected in Braden Hooter's clean and minimalistic design.
After the opening dinner scene, family members return to their corners for the evening activities, each inviting an audience member to join them. The curtains are drawn down, the lights are dimmed and even the music fades out. Most of the individual interactions happen in complete silence. The Boy (Amar Biamonte) is eager to show me his small collection of valuables: a pinup girl picture hidden under his yarmulke, a deck of cards, and a vial of whiskey. We come back to these objects during several other interactions with him.
A life in hiding follows the same path day in and day out. Holding on to routine helps to pass away time and preserve human dignity. The meal scenes alternate with one-on-one scenes. Instead of changes in daylight, the alarming sound of a train horn in the distance marks the time. Each audience member is on the narrative track of the same character during the entire experience but also gets to spend some time with his or her counterpart. In my case it was The Girl (Rakel Aroyo), who writes love letters sitting on the edge of the bathtub.
Director Anthony Logan Cole (who also plays The Man who ushers us in and out of hiding) is economical both with visual design and his direction of the performers. Every movement is telling, every silent motion pumps with love, dignity, fear, anger or despair. No finger is moved simply for aesthetic reason, but rather has a lifetime of human passions and cultural heritage behind it. This helps to fill in the blanks in the other characters' stories and vividly imagine their struggles.
The lighting design, more of a darkness design, is handled with the same striking efficiency as the rest of the show. The use of silence is haunting and the effect is more dramatic when it is broken. But the choice of using songs in English is puzzling, as they likely wouldn’t be a part of this world. Although they might convey a sense of home to a New York audience, they unfortunately rob The Hidden Ones of its historical context.
The Hidden Ones implies a great deal of closeness to the actors: I don’t think I’ve spent that much time literally rubbing elbows with a character in any of my immersive endeavors. It might be uncomfortable for some audience members, but is justified in a setting where people are deprived of privacy. What is more, a new kind of intimacy is born out of these circumstances, whether the romantic story in the plot, or a connection between an actor and a single audience member.
(The Hidden Ones plays at a secret location in midtown Manhattan through December 2, 2018. Exact location is provided via email after ticket purchase. Running time is 65 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Wednesday through Sunday at 7 and 9; no performances November 21-23. Tickets are $100 and are available at TheHiddenNYC.com.)
The Hidden Ones is conceived and directed by Anthony Logan Cole. Choreography by Whitney Sprayberry. Scenic Design by Braden Hooter. Stage Manager is Matthew Kennedy. Production Manager is Tyler Oberle.
The cast is Jay Stuart, Chris Jumper, Marley Madding, Rakel Aroyo, Amar Biamonte, Monica Blaze Leavitt, and Anthony Logan Cole.