Hidden Room Theatre exploded on to the Austin theatre scene last year with their debut production of Taming of the Shrew, performing the piece in original practice manner, using all male cast and live musicians in a very unique environment, creating one of the most memorable comedic experiences of the year, and winning numerous awards in the process. This left many wondering just how they would top it, but what they got was something no one could have guessed. For their sophomore production, they changed gears drastically, teaming up with London investigative theatre troupe Look Left Look Right Production to produce a theatrical experiment called You Wouldn’t Know Him, He Lives in Texas/You Wouldn’t Know Her, She Lives in London, in which they create two characters Ryan and Lizzy, a couple crazy in love but separated by thousands of miles, Ryan in Texas, Lizzy in London, and plopping them right in the middle of the social media landscape. They post on facebook, they skype back and forth, and befriend those who will later be their audience, for one of the most immersive pieces of the year.
The play begins before the day even arrives, as we friend the two characters on facebook, and watch them go about their lives, seeing pictures of their visits to each others cities, chatting with each other and posting on each other’s walls, even watching them comment on our own facebook posts. We’re then invited up to a grand party, complete with plenty of beer and snacks, in which we meet the lovely lady herself over Skype, as well as many of her friends, as we become part of the play itself. The production basically becomes a series of audience questions, leading up to major drama on both sides by play’s end, culminating in a heartwarming revelation. Pardon the vagueness here, but saying too much would simply ruin the experience, which audience members will just have to see for themselves.
The play constantly blurs the line between reality and fiction, with the fictional stars of the play interacting with each other and us on their all-too-real facebook accounts, making us question exactly where actor Judd Farris ends and character Ryan Peterson really begins. Judd Farris never tips his hand, never cracking character or peeking out from behind the mask, and as the actors take their bows at the end of the piece, we’re left with the surreal thought that we might just be chatting with Ryan about the show later tonight. It’s an experience unlike anything else I’ve ever seen, and one of the enjoyable afternoons of theatre you’ll find.
Hidden Room and director Beth Burns have done it again, creating something new and bold that Austin theatre fans are not likely to see again. Even with so many expectations on their shoulders, they were able to go above and beyond them all to create a show that this critic will remember for months to come. If there was any doubt about the future of the company, this production has shattered those, with Hidden Room cementing their place as one of the most impressive companies in Austin.