Conceived by Third Rail Projects and Zach Morris – spare him the Saved by the Bell jokes – the show Confection is a pleasant, occasionally intriguing morsel of immersive theater. You’re probably wondering, “What the hell is immersive theater?”
Most performances have passive audiences: they sit politely and take in the show, never leaving their seat except for maybe the intermission. As immersive theater, Confection does the opposite. Audience members stay on their feet for large chunks of the show, wandering from room to room while they interact and observe the actors. The effect is sort of like Sleep No More, except nowhere as creepy. Confection is more ambitious than its title, and while the logistic challenges of the show require some filler, it creates an opportunity to think about its themes in unusual ways.
The biggest draw for Confection might be how it uses the Folger Library. Instead of the typical theater where most performances are held, Morris’ team of five performers lead the audience through the library’s reading rooms, which are typically closed to the public. The rooms are stunning, full of ornate shelving and stained glass windows. As its title suggests, food is the entry point for the show. After a brief introduction, the audience splits into small groups where they see several smaller vignettes. The introduction and these smaller “shows” are all about the clash between food, class, and inequality. In Shakespeare’s day, food was an example of luxurious excess since exotic ingredients were that much harder to preserve. Not surprisingly, Morris finds modern resonance with this old idea.
The tones in Confection vary wildly. Many of them are wistful, like languid dance performances that bookend the show, which last longer than they probably should. The performers are naturally graceful, but after hearing a classical cover of “Sugar Sugar” play for an interminable time, I couldn’t shake the feeling the long dance was also stalling tactic for a final surprise.
It is no surprise the most successful moments are more intimate, without the performers dancing together, because they break down the typical barriers of theater. There is an uproarious scene where a man babbled in Spanish, instructing the audience with a game that slowly becomes an allegory about superstition and gossip. Another scene is set in the library’s card catalog, an even smaller space, and true to the Morris’ title, it involves sharing candy with other audience members. By the end of the show, Morris successfully penetrates your defenses to the point that you may end up sharing conversation, or even more, with a complete stranger.
This show is not for everyone. While the pace and scope of the performances are gentle, these actors will touch and interact with you in ways that may make you feel uncomfortable. If you have no problem being singled out at a magic show or a standup comedy event, then you’ll have no problem with Confection. Those who get petrified by strangers at staring them should probably avoid this one.
Confection offers rare rewards. There is no narrative, but the cumulative effect is meant to get you thinking. You’ll be entertained and fed along the way – not huge portions, mind you – while going through some of the most beautiful, infrequently-visited rooms in the city. In terms of DC’s theatrical offerings, Confection is not a main course, but you’ll want to save room for it.
Confection runs at the Folger Library through March 24. Buy tickets here!