Volume 77 / Number 33 Jan. 16 - 22, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

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Through Jan. 20 (Every half hour from noon to midnight)
144 2nd Ave. at 9th St.
(866-811-4111; thefoundrytheatre.org)
Part of the Under the Radar Festival

A playful exchange on public display

By Sarah Norris

This avant-garde production, by the Foundry Theatre, Rotozaza and producer Thomas Sullivan, demands the audience’s full attention, because it’s you who’s on stage — the stage in this case being the Veselka diner. The $20 tickets are sold in pairs, and it’s recommended that you arrive with a friend, or someone in whose company you won’t mind looking a bit ridiculous. On the other hand, being forced to act out a performance piece in a crowded diner makes for an excellent icebreaker. I did it with a stranger, and afterward I felt like I knew him much better than I would have if left to circuitous small talk.

You and your partner of choice arrive at the showtime you’ve reserved, sit on opposite sides of a table decorated with tiny props, and put on headsets playing different scripts — one is for the man, the other for the woman, but feel free to shake things up. This whole thing is play, in the truest sense of the word. The recorded voice in your ears explains a number of various situations and roles, cueing lines for you to say, and actions to take, from arching an eyebrow to sprinkling water over your partner’s hand as he or she feigns sleep. One scene entails using tiny plastic figurines to act out a dramatic break-up; another requires that the woman, temporarily playing a prostitute, ask the stranger across from her if he’ll buy her a drink, and what he’s reading.

“Etiquette” offers a half-hour of recess for adults. It’s interesting to notice the self-consciousness one feels in such a situation, and then to get over it and have fun. Of all the reasons to love the East Village, this production exemplifies two. One is the fresh reminder that people are up to so many unexpected projects. The second, of course, is that even while you’re wearing headphones, clapping loudly, and pretending to cry, the woman at the next table will not bother to glance up from her cabbage.

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