Annie Lesser began her ABC Project with A(partment 8), which delighted critics and fans alike. That production was intimate and moving and resonated in the minds of participants long after they walked out of it. With a goal of producing 26 different immersive experiences tied thematically together simply by their alphabetical titles, Lesser now brings forth F(ord Focus), her sixth entry in the ABC Project–but it fails to deliver an experience as rewarding or powerful as those before it.
This 25-minute experience tells a story about you taking a trip in a ride-sharing car with one other audience member. You’ve both downloaded a “Generic Ride Share Service” app and are looking for your driver, Timothy, and his Ford Focus. That’s all you get before you begin the experience.
Entering a lot to look for your ride leads to meeting your driver, who leaps out of the car and calls himself “Jamal” for half a second before returning to the name that you expected. That creates a huge burst of momentary confusion (Since when does a Lyft-like driver get out of the car to shake my hand? Why did he give me the wrong name? Has he stolen this ride?). The confusion is only increased when you find out there are two other passengers – lesbians, apparently, based on Jamal/Timothy’s comment – already in the car and deep in the midst of an argument. Add random questions as you drive, messages written in unusual spots and some very unexpected items hidden in almost plain sight and it becomes clear: This is not going to be a simple ride.
In design, it’s clearly meant to be an exploration of how easily we assume the ‘truth’ in situations without having enough facts to actually be certain of such assumptions. Everything within the early part of the story is geared along those lines. Every statement seems weighted with potential meaning and every question asked of the audience seems aimed at creating quick judgment calls.
Had those moments been allowed to progress naturally, in more of a real-time scenario, it might have succeeded in its intent. It might have actually made me feel legitimately uncomfortable or concerned or worried. Instead, the narrative rushes at almost a breakneck pace that allows for no moment to breathe or reflect or – most importantly – create tension. The questions are asked one after the other, almost before you answer. The moments fall on top of each other so fast you fail to follow them. And even when the truth comes out, it has taken such little time to get there that I had no investment in its outcome. It happened so quickly I never even got truly engaged.
I feel like this production needed more time across the board, both inside the show itself and behind the scenes. More time within the experience would possibly have created a slow burn instead of the frantic pace. More time working through the production would eliminate mistakes such as props that were impossible to reach when asked for or missing completely (both of which happened during my experience). More time working with actors might have brought about performances that felt more like actual, real people instead of what felt to be caricatures that seemed out of place in the scenario presented. Conversely, more time could have turned the entire production into more of an exaggeration of the ride share experience and generated something truly eerie.
Ultimately, this production simply felt incomplete to me. Could there be an interesting experience here? Certainly. There might well be a darker, more somber look at judging situations based on little evidence.
But this immersive production is not that experience. Instead, from the over-the-top performances and the under-developed story, this experience came across exactly as I guess I could have guessed from the name of the ride share at the beginning.
This show was generic. Here’s hoping “G” will be an improvement.