Staged - John Street Theater Company

Reviewed By Teresa Leggard

Fringe Reviewer

In Staged, director Abby Palen and her ensemble cast—half of which is the unknowing live audience—offer viewers something short and intimate and weird. In other words, your typical atypical Fringe Festival fair.

They’ve got skits and songs. They address Covid, climate change, and identity politics. There’s even a bit of improv. In the 30-ish minute work, sometimes it’s difficult to discern which laughs are from humor and which are from nervous tension. Thank goodness for the split screen. Half the entertainment is in the audience reactions, or the audience trying not to react. Following the performance, the cast interviews each audience member one by one. For the viewers watching on screen, this is also part of the show. At this point, the piece goes from odd performance art to social science experiment.

As an observer of the on-screen audience, watching people try to make meaning is, as one audience/participant put it, “awkward…really awkward…so awkward.” But everyone was a good sport. If you miss the offbeat, experimental, sometimes uncomfortable energy of live, in-person Fringe, John Street Theater Company delivers. Ultimately Staged ends up feeling like a Rorschach test—people see what they want or need to see, whether it’s there or not.