ORLANDO — Imagine you’re walking down the street one evening, and you notice a nice house where the lights are on, there’s music playing inside, and you can hear people laughing and talking.
You’ve never been to this house before, but something pulls you toward it, so you walk up the front steps, open the door, and go inside.
There are three people in the living room, two men and a woman, and they’re chatting amiably. They don’t much notice you as you walk in. You shift over to the couch and sit down, and relax and listen as the three people in the house converse.
In a nutshell, that’s pretty much what it feels like to experience the performance art group known simply as Living Room Theater.
The trio are Tisse Mallon, who uses the “stage” name Bear; Jack Graham as Dog; and Banks Helfrich as Otter. They’ve been performing in Orlando for the past five months, and they do so in a unique way. Rather than search out stages at professional theater companies, they perform on an entirely different venue: in private homes.
Living Room Theater is doing just that as part of the Orlando Fringe Festival, and rather than use one of the available stages at venues like the Lowndes Shakespeare Center or the Orlando Repertory Theater, they’re sticking with the original concept and performing at 1314 Chichester St., a house located just a short drive from the main Fringe activities at Loch Haven Park, which is also the home of local playwright and theater critic Al Pergande.
And what they deliver, as I noted through their media preview on Saturday, isn’t quite what I expected.
Our trio performs sketches — sometimes with just two of them, sometimes all three, maybe just one. They play guitar, do dance and pantomime, but mainly act out their sketch art, much of which feels improvisational. When the sketch is over, there’s a signal — a bird chirping in the background.
Improv instantly makes you think of one thing: zany, off-the-wall comedy. There were some funny moments in the Living Room Theater performance, particularly in an early sketch about a man who feels safe sending the woman he loves a text message, but freezes up when she calls him and actually wants to have a conversation.
But it’s not all comedic. Some of the sketches are rather somber, and feel quite intimate — exactly that feeling of having walked into a stranger’s house and been able to eavesdrop on private conversations.
Does it work? Mostly, yes, in part because the three performers are intelligent, articulate, and very easy to relate to. They don’t traffic in familiar concepts of “popular” entertainment, or do sketches that feel like something you’ve seen a thousand times on television.
Not all of the sketches worked; a few times, it felt like the performers had run out of ideas and were not quite sure where to take the sketch. As they noted in a talkback after the show, sometimes the sketch is nothing more than a one line
concept that they then develop.
But what does work is the feeling that you’re experiencing something different, something rather unique: a look at who we are today, the issues we’re all grappling with — and how these situations are often comical, sometimes frustrating, often times completely baffling to cope with. But the three improvisation actors are good enough to make us instantly relate to who they are and what they’re experiencing.
If you do check out one of their shows at Fringe, keep in mind that no two performances are alike, and they bring different sketches to each show. If you catch an early one and like it, you can easily go back to a second one and be surprised all over again.
Living Room Theater is being performed at the following dates:
* Thursday May 19 at 7:30 p.m.
* Friday May 20 at 7:30 p.m.
* Saturday May 21 at 5 and 8 p.m.
* Sunday May 22 at 5 and 8 p.m.
* Thursday May 26 at 7:30 p.m.
* Friday May 27 at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.
* Saturday May 28 at 5 and 8 p.m.
* Sunday May 29 at 5 and 8 p.m.
Tickets are $11 each and available at http://orlandofringe.ticketleap.com/living-room-theater/.
There is free street parking available.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..