Evan Enderle and Aaron Dias in
The Tenant
(© Emily Fishbaine)
Evan Enderle and Aaron Dias in
The Tenant
(© Emily Fishbaine)
Theatergoers find themselves hurtling into a psychological thriller unfolding around them in The Woodshed Collective's The Tenant, now playing at West-Park Presbyterian Church. Co-directed by Teddy Bergman and Stephen Brackett, the show proves to be not only a remarkable logistical achievement (a 23-person company performs the piece through various spaces on five floors of the building), but also an impressive artistic one, featuring some top-notch playwriting and some fine performances.

Based on Roland Topor's novella of the same title (which inspired Roman Polanski's 1976 film), The Tenant centers on Trelkovsky (Michael Crane), a man who moves into a room that has been left vacant following the suicide attempt of the woman who previously lived there. He soon finds that he is being menaced by his neighbors, and slowly comes to believe that they are trying to drive him to the same fate as the woman.

Theatergoers come to understand the show's basic premise about Trelkovsky's new home thanks to a movie that is screened at the top of the show. After this, audiences begin exploring the immaculately designed apartments, shops, and restaurants (production design, which cleverly straddles the periods of both the novel and the movie, by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn) that Trelkovsky, his friends, and neighbors frequent. Occasionally, additional video will play in all of the spaces to help theatergoers come up to speed on the fractured narrative they are experiencing as they wander through the environment, following specific characters, or simply exploring at will.

As with the hit Sleep No More, which also immerses its audience in a self-guided theatrical environment, a successful visit to The Tenant will involve having a fearless willingness to explore and the ability to make some split-second choices about which character to follow as the production progresses. Following Trelkovsky, for at least a good portion of the piece, would be highly recommended. Not simply because of Crane's marvelously intense performance, but also because his central narrative intersects with so many others.

At times, though, theatergoers should certainly consider veering off into one of the tangential stories (there are eight plotlines in total), and to just stroll through taking voyeuristic mental snapshots of empty spaces (such as a weirdly configured broom closet where items on the shelf jut out at a 90° angle).

As with this tiny compartment, simple glimpses of a plot thread can intrigue. For instance, anyone who happens upon an early scene between Francois (Evan Enderle) and Claudia (Aaron Dias), a couple with more than a few rifts in their marriage, will probably be tempted to see how this rivetingly played tale (written by Steven Levenson) unfolds. And, from strands seen at a recent performance, the story involving an elderly lady (Judith Greentree) and her crippled daughter (Jocelyn Kuritsky), written by Sarah Burgess and played with deep emotion, seems as if it would be equally rewarding.

What impresses most about the production is how astutely and ably the company builds the intensity and suspense within the context of a narrative that is truly controlled by theatergoers' individual choices. Even if one has not been following Trelkovsky specifically, it's impossible to not sense his weakening mental condition and even feel some of the fear he feels: a sense that's only heightened by some exceptionally creepy original music by Duncan Sheik and David van Tieghem and an equally eerie soundscape from Brandon Wolcott.