The work centers on a movie that four castmates shoot during the hour that precedes theatergoers' arrival. One ensemble member (Bastian Trost) plays the movie's hero, while another (Mat Hand) serves as the publicity manager for the central character, putting up posters and shouting about the character's presence to anyone who will listen. And while a third (Erik Pold) endeavors to find a stranger to take part in the movie's finale, a fourth (Sarah Thom) serves as the scout to find the location where it will take place.
While these artists are on the streets pursuing their various tasks, they continuously videotape their activities and encounters, and this footage is projected onto four screens and mixed live with music to create the "performance."
Obviously, results of the quartet's interactions each evening will create vastly differing experiences each night. At Thursday's offering, the performers seemed to have the unusual ability to stumble upon willing collaborators. Trost had particular good luck, starting with his first encounter, a guy who sincerely tried to give the hero a mission, and ending with his penultimate one, where "Big Mike" offered the sage counsel: "How can you be a failure? You're doing your thing." And even when New Yorkers proved unwilling to take part -- his attempts to get a car of subway riders to laugh failed miserably -- the resulting footage proved both hysterical and profoundly telling.
Similarly, Pold had the extraordinary good fortune to meet Sarah, a young woman from Astoria, who joined him for nearly 30 of his 60 minutes -- and gamely (and sweetly) took part in the hero's big final scene. And if Thom's almost continuingly self-contained work never attracted quite the same amount of attention as her compatriots (including Hand, who managed to scare a group of diners at a fast food restaurant with his ranting), audiences were fixated on the group's adventures.
The piece is certainly not traditional theater by any stretch of the imagination (the performers do not appear on stage until the curtain call), and yet, there is an immediacy and spontaneity to the piece and the taped improvisation that feels entirely appropriate for the stage. And at Thursday's performance, when volunteer Sarah took part in the bows, theatergoers' cheers certainly signaled -- at least for one night -- that the group's "war" had ended in victory: somehow she, and the rest of the Squad, seemed like family.