In most Western countries, gaining citizenship can take months, if not years. But Lush Valley—a collaboration among director Kristin Marting, dramaturg Mahayana Landowne, video artist Tal Yarden, and writers Robert Lyons and Qui Nguyen that imagines its spectators attempting access to a new country—distills the process down to two hours. And that includes several dance breaks and a couple of rap numbers.
An exploration of the overlap between participatory drama and participatory democracy, Lush Valley casts each audience member in the role of an eager émigré awaiting an appointment at the “Department of Hope and Prosperity.” Instead of a ticket, you are assigned a case number and a form to complete. (Questions include age, weight, income, and whether you are “a habitual drunkard.”) Then, amid a set decked out in varied shades of institutional gray, you queue for an initial interview with one of eight immigrant officials, who all seem far too affable to succeed in the civil service.
If you are the sort of spectator who likes to sit quietly in the dark, note that there is no dark and little sitting. An intensely interactive piece, Lush Valley demands that you intermingle not only with the actors, but also with each other, via focus groups designed to select various national features. (On the evening I attended, would-be citizens chose the dolphin as Lush Valley’s animal, the banjo as its instrument. So much for crowd sourcing.)
The piece’s creators make its high-minded purpose clear: to encourage attendees to reflect on what being a member of community—national, local, theatrical—truly entails. But the play’s methods are perhaps somewhat too diffuse. The characters of the immigration officials never fully emerge, despite many scenes intended to elucidate them, and Lush Valley itself remains opaque. A brief video displaying mountains, deserts, and wind turbines provides the only suggestion of place.
Still, it’s the only government office I’ve ever known that features a rolling bar cart vending reasonably priced wine and snacks. The DMV should get on this.