Review: Odd Man Out Is Black Box Theater Delivered to Your Home
Take a flight from New York to Buenos Aires...while never leaving the ground.
I recently received a strange package in the mail. It was a black box adorned with a somewhat macabre black bow. Inside were several vials and a note inviting me to "enjoy the trip." Has someone sent me hallucinogens in the mail? I wondered, and if so, who? I would like to write them a thank-you note.
After some investigation, it turns out the "trip" is Odd Man Out, a home delivery audio play enhanced by olfactory, gustatory, and tactile design — meaning you can smell, taste, and touch it. But while the creators engage senses that most theatermakers unwisely choose to ignore, they remove one: The play is to be experienced completely without sight (a helpful blindfold is included in the package).
Odd Man Out is the first "box experience" from Pitchblack, a collaboration between New York's theatreC and Argentina's Teatro Ciego (which has a history of working with blind artists). This unique invention was born out of necessity: A planned 2020 run of a live stage production capsized in the wake of Covid-19. The creators (writer-director Martín Bondone with co-directors Facundo Bogarín and Carlos Armesto) have cleverly reimagined the play as an at-home event you can enjoy by ordering a box online.
By scanning a QR on the boarding pass inside, I gained access to the audio of this 65-minute play about Alberto (Gonzalo Trigueros), a blind musician traveling back to his native Argentina for the first time in decades. As a young man in the '60s, he follows a scholarship to New York City. That's where he discovers his longtime collaborator, Jamal (Modesto Lacen), a busker in the Fulton Street subway station. Alberto's girlfriend, Clara (Carmen Borla), tries to join him in New York, but she is ultimately drawn back to Argentina and its troubled politics. Alberto's story unfolds through a series of flashbacks as he politely chats with his seat partner (Andrés Montejo) on the long flight from New York to Buenos Aires.
At key moments, the performers break the fourth wall and ask you to open one of the numbered vials and take a big whiff. Smell is the sense most intimately tied to memory, and the creators have smartly bet that the scent of a flowering tree or the ocean is likely to put the audience in a sentimental mood by conjuring their own hazy (yet still-pungent) memories.
The box also comes with items you can taste: a sweet treat and an airline-sized bottle of a decent Argentinean Malbec (teetotalers are offered yerba mate, a traditional South American beverage guzzled by the Pope).
Lest you think this is all a scratch-and-sniff gimmick, know that Bondone and his co-directors have crafted a story that is both relatable and specific, powerfully conveyed by top-notch voice acting, especially from the lead performer. With each gentle chuckle and wry inflection, Trigueros vocally embodies a man steeped in both the pride and regret accumulated during a long and unconventional life. You would never guess that he is actually many decades younger than the role he is playing.
Of course, the awesome binaural sound design (a collaboration of Leonardo Lucas Macchione, Carolina Morera, and Nicholas Álvarez) is the star of the show. In addition to making the performers feel real and present, it brings the sounds of a jet engine, a student protest, and a blues concert (wonderful original music by Mirko Mescia) directly into your ears. For the full effect, I recommend experiencing Odd Man Out through noise-canceling headphones in a dark room.
With its sightless presentation and innovative design, Odd Man Out makes an excellent companion piece with Blindness, currently playing at the Daryl Roth Theatre. But for those who are unable to make it to a theater in Manhattan, Odd Man Out is quality theater delivered directly to you. The "box experience" may have come about as a substitute for live production, but it has the happy result of making the show accessible to more people than a traditional production would have accommodated. That is always something to be celebrated, and I hope this idea won't be boxed up and shelved once we fully emerge from Covid restrictions.