From the Fringe: ‘Plā’

Fringe review: ‘Plā,’ Jeff Wirth, Orlando

By Elizabeth Maupin

Alas for those of us who shrink from audience participation, who see it coming and shrivel so deeply into our seats (and into ourselves) that we can’t enjoy the rest of the show.

Jeff Wirth has figured us out. And he’s figured that if you make the people in the audience feel safe and comfortable, we’re more likely to join in voluntarily – and we’re much more likely to have a good time.

In Plā (pronounce it play), Wirth and collaborator/tech wiz John Valines have devised a brilliant hour of improv, one in which Wirth gently invites theatergoers to play along and assures those who don’t that we won’t be bothered. He also knows the pitfalls of inviting people onstage who try to take over the show (and we’ve all seen that). So he makes clear his definition of plā: “To engage in fiction as though it were real without trying to be funny” (italics mine, and I will be eternally grateful).

As if to prove him right, Tuesday night’s plā consisted of one gem after another: I feel sure the audience members weren’t plants, but boy, were they good. One little playlet (or plālet) was set at a bus station, at which Wirth professed to be leaving town and an audience member, playing Wirth’s brother, gave as good as he got: When Wirth said he always wanted to be a poet, the other man asked, “What’s stopping you?”

In another, at a dance, a woman from the audience challenged him to take off his shades (“Is there something wrong with your eyes?” she asked), and the two found a way to end the scene as sweetly as it needed to end.

There are scenes that involve technology, hilariously, and scenes in which the audience needs to intuit what it’s supposed to do. Best of all are the times in which those of us who aren’t participating feel compelled to add our two cents’ worth. When Wirth’s dance party lacked music, folks in the audience started a percussion beat with their feet, and before long it sounded a little like the cast of Stomp was in the house. A fine reward for a fascinating show.

Remaining performances: 5:15 p.m. Friday 5/28, 12:35 p.m. Saturday 5/29, 1:35 p.m. Sunday 5/30. Blue venue.

3 responses to “From the Fringe: ‘Plā’

  1. I was the guy who asked “What’s stopping you?”… and I honestly didn’t know! I also didn’t know the location or who in the heck (yes, heck) we were supposed to be! It took me the entire scene to realize that he had turned me into one of his family members, and what his source of trepidation was.

    This show should get Patron’s Pick. It quietly yet effectively blew my mind.

  2. I knew you were, Ned, but I didn’t know the woman’s name whom I mentioned so I left your name out too. You were good!

  3. Viet Nguyen

    I thought you were his dad, Ned. Different interpretations!

    Jeff is such a warm and generous scene partner. So many fun and beautiful moments in this show.