The Tenant Moves In

An abandoned church gets some curious Parisians

City dwellers know how many personal dramas can overlap when people are thrown together. The social friction can be a pleasure—or it can make you crazy.

The Tenant, a new site-specific performance piece by the adventurous Woodshed Collective, unfurls this reality like a great theatrical tapestry of vintage grit. The action sprawls across five floors of a derelict church and parish house. Spectators wander through at their own pace, exploring spaces as minute as a closet and as broad as a darkened sanctuary. At each stop (and sometimes in between), we encounter fresh data—spotting a new character, overhearing a bit of revealing dialogue—and can only speculate on which parts of this enigma might fit together.

Inspired by a 1964 novella by Roland Topor (turned into a 1976 Roman Polanski film), six playwrights have devised their own separate mini-plays centered around the denizens of a mysterious Paris apartment building. Directors Teddy Bergman and Stephen Brackett disperse the performers among the basements, attics, corridors, and parlors of this giant building. It's up to us to locate the action, chasing characters who slink furtively up and down stairs and along darkened galleries.

Not quite how Polanski did it.
Emily Fishbaine
Not quite how Polanski did it.

The tale's anti-hero, Monsieur Trelkovsky (Michael Crane), has moved into a flat whose previous tenant jumped out the window. The ghostly vibe and unseemly neighbors eventually drive him to delirium. Much of the fun, however, comes from following colorful side characters: a malevolent concierge, a desperate door-to-door salesman, and many others. The lively cast manages to give several of these vignettes a illusion of depth—even if, hoofing from site to site, you start to get the feeling that these characters are most interesting when you know the least about them.

Ultimately, The Tenant is a triumph of simultaneity and atmosphere over narrative satisfaction. It's a memorable evening, thanks in large part to the extraordinary production design by Gabriel Hainer Evansohn.

Whether it all adds up depends on your individual experience, dexterity, and luck; your French cinephilic voyeurism may be rewarded—or you might just decide that there's not much more than meets the average city dweller's eye.

 
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