On The Rocks, a young Philadelphia company, is theatrical climate crisis: Whether you believe in the work or not, it’s happening, and they have set out to destroy every preconception you might have about theater. Their latest effort, our ouija board…, running at Asian Arts Initiative through September 22, is a glorious piece of theatrical fuckery.
After signing my waiver and taking the elevator to the second floor, I found a space dominated by a spare, modern apartment set. Dark, brooding music set the preshow mood, and color-changing gels served as audience lighting. By this time, I was ready for battle. My inner monologue: “You think you are so damn bleeding-edge. Well, bring it on.”
Shit got weird
Much to my surprise, a well-made play broke out. Without going into great detail, everything is clear and well-constructed. This could be a millennial horror play by Richard Greenberg. Inventive? Sure. But during intermission there was a feeling of discontent in the air. If audience reaction was a bottle of wine, the main note would be “WTF?” with a secondary note of “Have I been played?” and just the merest hint of “Sellout.”
Then the second act began, and shit got weird in a hurry. We are in a basement, and the act is marked by ritual, light flashes, aggressive sound cues, and emotional blackmail and coercion. Stylistically, it is the complete opposite of the first act, and yet equally tight and well-conceived.
Go with an open mind
Seven characters gather, and at the end of the first act, we find out the reason why. There’s also a strange outsider who’s not as unfamiliar as she first seems. She has a Ouija board and she’s out for revenge. Things begin to get bloody, and with a light flash and sound cue, there’s a shocking resurrection.
The ensuing action includes a game of Spin the Bottle and an adult version of Never Have I Ever, and surprising attractions emerge. As the games progress, so does the fucking, albeit with all relevant pieces of clothing on. No matter their stated sexuality, people pair off with one another. As playwright Haygen-Brice Walker puts it, it’s a “theatrical, queer shit show.” There’s a born-again Christian, a renunciation, a murder, and an orgiastic climax. After a bit of recovery time, the play is over—in simultaneously the only way the work could end, and a giant fuck you to the audience.
Obviously, this work is not for everyone. Most certainly, it is not for children. I think it’s a glimpse of one possible future of theater. If you decide to go, go with an open mind.
What, When, Where
our ouija board, the games we played, the shit we conjured & the dead dude we hate-fucked. By Haygen-Bryce Walker, directed by Elaina Di Monaco. Through September 22, 2019 at Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street, Philadelphia. (215) 413-1318 or fringearts.com.
Asian Arts Initiative is a wheelchair-accessible venue, but it’s not easy to navigate for wheelchair-users.