Read about NYC's best theatre and dance productions and watch video interviews with innovative artists
Deception leads to honest revelations in the play This Is My Office
Inviting someone into your office can be a very intimate experience. In fact, it may unearth personal secrets that would never be discovered at home.
That's the conceit of playwright Andy Bragen's Off-Broadway debut This is My Office, an immersive solo show at chashama produced by The Play Company. Although the play was inspired by Bragen's actual experiences in a downtown office building, it deviates from reality the moment that actor David Barlow steps in front of a cozy audience of 40 and declares, "Welcome. I'm Andy Bragen. This is my office."
He's not Bragen, of course, and chashama's raw Midtown East storefront space is not his office. But the play thrives on deception in the service of emotional truth.
"Like the work of Spalding Gray or W. David Hancock, what at first seems simple is meant to open up in a theatrical manner," the real-life Bragen explains. "The character of Andy is an unreliable narrator, not just to the audience but to himself. He thinks he's telling a story about this amazing photograph he finds in his office, but it turns into something else. It's a kind of magic trick."
After Barlow-as-Andy introduces himself, he takes the audience on a tour of both his "office" and his life. At first he shares mundane tidbits about his daily routine, shows off his unremarkable desk, and complains of writer's block. And just when you're wondering if his monologue is going anywhere, he reveals an old Polaroid he found tucked behind the office radiator. It sparks a flood of memories about his deceased father's workplace and relationships, '70s New York City, bingeing on doughnuts, and the old comic-book-inspired game Presto Magix.
"When writing a play for just one actor, it was important for me to find the theatrical elements of his journey -- it couldn't be one guy in a dark room," says Bragen, who graduated from Brown University's MFA Program in Literary Arts where he studied with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel. "Paula talks a lot about form, which is something I'm very interested in as a writer. The relationship between form and content, the idea of seeing with your ears and hearing with your eyes. Paula showed me how to create a world through language and this play aims to teach audiences how to see it."
Part of "seeing" the play involves wearing headphones that pipe in a subtle soundtrack behind the monologue, following Andy into different rooms, and forging an intense connection with him as he tells you his story. He even speaks to quite a few patrons directly. "Not everyone is comfortable with that," Bragen admits. "Some people just want to go and sit in the dark in a chair and stay separate. But theatre is collective. There's something about being in an immersive environment that I find fascinating. Even though I know David is making an effort to contain the interactions and stick to the script, everyone reacts differently, so every night is unique."
Since the play is billed as semiautobiographical, it's hard to resist speculating which elements are true and which are fabricated, but the answers might surprise you. Some of the smallest details are invented, while big revelations actually happened. "Much of the stuff about my father, including his battle with cancer, is true," Bragen says. "But some things were condensed and changed and shifted for dramatic purposes. In terms of Andy's descent into pot and doughnuts, that was not true. And while there was a radiator, there was no photo. [The one prominently used in the show and photocopied for everyone in the audience was staged.] We all have these vague memories of our childhood, moments we only kind of remember, so I delve into those and turn them into something new. Even though it's a play, not a confessional thing, it all feels true to me."