Last September, This Is Not A Theatre Company earned five stars for Café Play. Have they done it again without the Café?

By Andrew Andrews

Jonathan Matthews strikes a pose in This Is Not A Theatre Company's immersive Play!. Original photo courtesy of the company.

The title, Play!, is a play on words. The piece is an immersive play, so to speak, about play. It’s a play with play, a play that erupts into play, but, ironically, not a play within a play. Combining modern dance, yoga, and a poetic monologue that borders on tirade, Play! begins by convincing the audience of the necessity of play, then beckons the whole lot to participate. Young and old, gregarious or timid, from clown to curmudgeon, everyone, eventually plays.

Although last year’s Café Play was passively immersive, this year’s effort activates the genre by enticing the entire audience, in increasing numbers, to pass through the flimsy fourth wall and play on stage. In Theaterlab’s thrillingly-contradictive all-white black-box space, Master of Cermonies Jonathan Matthews wows the audience, executing all-but-impossible movements and poses, intertwined with rhyme and a gurgling stream of click bait headlines.

In all honesty, I have mixed feelings about participatory theatre, and would only recommend an experience like this to someone who enjoys being drawn into the action at a performance, or is at least willing to go along with it. Without giving too much away, the play is fun, friendly and familiar enough that nobody should feel uncomfortable, although the piece seems to need a little bit more work to make it as engaging emotionally as it is physically. Of course, the action needs to be scripted to pull it off successfully; I just wish it felt a little bit more spontaneous, even if everything goes exactly as planned.

By itself, I don’t feel strongly enough about Play! to insist that it make your short list, especially since the cast is small, the total piece clocks in at less than an hour, and your active participation is required for the experience to be a success. But purchased as a double-feature with the five-star Theatre in the Dark: Carpe Diem, not only will the package save you five bucks, but you’ll enjoy that always-pleasant experience of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.


Andrew Andrews attended Play! at Theaterlab in Manhattan on Sunday, September 8, 2019 @ 7:00pm to write this review.