CRITICS' PICK: ‘Empire Travel Agency’ Guides Adventurers on a New York Odyssey

…Gloriously inventive and appallingly fun. What this play does, perhaps better than any piece since Deborah Warner’s “Angel Project,” is use the city itself as a set...‘This trip,’ says one travel agent, is ‘a journey through the mysteries of the city to help you find more.’ Take it.

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Do Whatever It Takes To Catch Woodshed Collective's Empire Travel Agency

Do whatever it takes to catch Woodshed Collective’s EMPIRE TRAVEL AGENCY...With Empire Travel Agency, [Woodshed] produced another enthralling site-specific adventure that fully immerses you into a world of mystery and suspense...The acting is idiosyncratic and impeccable, and the ensemble keeps everything speeding forward into curiouser and curiouser situations. In a way it never stops—certain New York City locations are now, for me, permanently imbued with magic.

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CRITICS' PICK - A marvel of coordinated inventiveness

The lucky four spectators meet at a pay phone in the Financial District, where they receive instructions on where to go next; there, and at each subsequent location, they encounter members of competing factions (gangsters, modern-art sharks, shifty Canadians) who try to cajole them into working on their behalf to secure the magic dust—and, perhaps, to save the metropolis from decline…a marvel of coordinated inventiveness. 

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The Tenant

Woodshed Collective has, with great imagination and wonderful detail, transformed the old five-story West-Park Presbyterian Church into a ramshackle Parisian apartment building (and its environs) circa the nineteen-sixties... The only downside is that, because the scenes are taking place all over the church at the same time, you can’t see everything. 

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A Walking Tour of The Tenant's Haunted Apartment Building

Many rooms on five stories of Manhattan's West-Park Presbyterian Church have been transformed into the haunted setting of The Woodshed Collective's free environmental production of The Tenant, an adaptation of Roland Topor's novel. Limber audience members follow characters throughout the Paris apartment building into detailed dwellings — to witness intimate exchanges penned by multiple playwrights — in the Upper West Side experience. Michael Patrick Crane, who plays Trelkovsky, the title character, takes Playbill on a tour of the mysterious digs and introduces cast members of the bizarre world. 

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No Space Too Dilapidated for a Show

Yet for the Woodshed Collective — an ambitious New York theater company with a commitment to low-budget, site-specific productions (past locations have included an empty swimming pool and a ship) — West-Park’s dilapidated state has been the answer to a prayer. Walking through a meeting room in the church, Gabriel Hainer Evansohn, one of the collective’s three artistic directors, ran his hand along a rip in the wall that revealed layers of faded paint. “Recreating this would be so expensive and difficult,” he said. “Actually it would be impossible.”

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✮✮✮✮✮ Sheer ambition… A breathtaking stunt!

Woodshed Collective proves itself up to old tricks in its marvelously intricate and involving new show. The sheer ambition of the project is impressive in and of itself: Set aboard the Lilac Steamship at Pier 40, The Confidence Man comprises at least a dozen of stories about charlatans and mountebanks, some of them adapted from Herman Melville’s novel of the same name. These tales, organized into three discrete tracks, are enacted simultaneously in 25 different playing areas for groups of spectators, who are escorted around the ship by six docents but free to wander as they please. On a technical level, it’s a breathtaking stunt.

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The world they’ve created is a fascinating one to get lost in

The show’s dreamlike mood of sinister paranoia is so palpable and persuasive that it almost doesn’t matter if the story loses you. The world they’ve created is a fascinating one to get lost in.

Carl Faber’s marvelous lighting design creates an atmosphere of creepy anxiety, and it soon becomes clear that this is less an apartment building and more an insane asylum.

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Heartbreakingly Beautiful

So it’s a bunch of crazy stories about cons and suckers? Yes, but the play is really about humanity’s essential and irrepressible need to believe in things. It’s about heartbreakingly beautiful ideas like the blindness of love, religious faith without question, and the need to give the common man the benefit of the doubt. On the cynical side, it’s all ripe fodder for cons and the audience gets to be in on the joke. 

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Truly, genuinely, wonderfully theatrical

It’s absolutely refreshing—in the present-day theatre world full of shows that can easily be TV sitcoms or TV dramas—to see a production that’s truly, genuinely, wonderfully theatrical. I applaud Woodshed Collective for their risk-taking project—this environmental site-specific show that does justice to Caridad Svich’s lyrical play Twelve Ophelias.

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Authentic Smokey Mountain Grace

The Jones Street Boys [provide] the play’s most authentic Smoky Mountain grace notes, despite the fact that none of its members hail from south of the Mason-Dixon line. The show begins with one of those great coups de theatre that have kicked off shows like “Black Watch” in the recent past: the sudden, unexpected appearance of a character or an object draws us in, especially when we can see all around us for hundreds of yards. Director Teddy Bergman and his designers give the play life aided by their surroundings — McCarren Park Pool is undoubtedly a neato venue for any aspiring experimental theater troupe. Bergman can ominously bring in the characters from yards offstage; Jessica Pabst can dress some of her actors in flowing garments to make use of the inevitable wind; the whole crew can use the encroaching darkness that falls shortly after the 8 p.m. curtain time.

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Get Thee to a Pool, Girlfriend

Poor Ophelia was never given much of a chance to shine in “Hamlet,”… In “Twelve Ophelias“, a free summer show outdoors at the McCarren Park Pool, she finally gets her chance to speak her mind. The setting for this production, by the Woodshed Collective, is lovely, and the word “free” in front of “theater” is a wonderful thing – Passion is exchanged, (and) female empowerment is explored.

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