$15 General, $10 Students/Seniors 65+
8 p.m., Nov. 14-17
7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 18
MSU Broad Art Museum
547 E. Circle Dr., East Lansing
Peppermint Creek Theatre:
WEDNESDAY, NOV. 14 — Not all works of art are complete before they’re shown, and “Framing Device” is no exception.
Produced by Peppermint Creek Theatre, in collaboration with the MSU Broad Art Museum, “Framing Device” — which runs through Sunday — is “an original immersive theater experience” about art production and evaluation that puts the audience “onstage” with the actors. Despite the perfect setting and diligent efforts of the entire cast, the overall storytelling sum feels less than the individual parts.
Directed and co-conceived by MSU’s Rob Roznowski, Peppermint Creek’s Chad Swan-Badgero and improvisation artists Sarah Hendrickson and Grant Cleaveland, “Framing Device” follows the style of New York’s “Sleep No More” and last season’s “Thus With A Kiss I Die” at MSU.
The plot, such as it is, is the opening night of a new piece of art designed by a divisive avant-garde artist played by Heath Sartorius. A few scripted scenes at the beginning, middle and end introduce the rest of the characters — not listed by name here as there is no program — but the rest is open-ended.
Audience members are encouraged to get close to the actors, follow their prompts and respond to their questions. Actors may treat you differently depending on the color of your wristband that audience members wear.
Apart from the mostly unaltered MSU Broad Art Museum interior, the actors are the best part. Many, such as Sartorius, are very immersed and comfortable in their character, interacting organically with the audience and other actors in scripted and unscripted moments.
There are a range of characters to follow ranging in age from children to retirees including an insecure art teacher telling kids to color within the lines, a spooky barista, a bitter, snarky museum curator and many more. If you’re lucky, Sartorius will even pick you to participate in his highly entertaining, much anticipated performance art project.
Other actors feel less secure in their role, veering back to their scripted prompts if you talk to them for more than a few minutes. It can feel frustrating because many of the concepts discussed by the characters, such as art funding and art criticism, are multifaceted topics worthy of argument.
While many of the actors state strong opinions like, “Art is not about interior decorating,” or claiming that “real artists” should not be paid, their arguments lack the research to make their dialogue feel like a strongly held belief rather than a surface-level talking point.
Unlike “Thus With A Kiss I Die,” “Framing Device” doesn’t have music cues piped through the speakers to dictate scenes or ushers to regroup the audience and discuss their experiences. The cavernous spaces of the Broad can also make it difficult to hear the actors, even as they spread themselves out. The overall experience is less than 90 minutes, but if you are not constantly moving, the experience can feel a little static as you wait for the next “scripted” scene to start.
At best, “Framing Device” is an ambitious, interactive romp through the Broad, complete with lots of laugh lines about critics and “sell-out” artists. Given the time and budget constraints, “Framing Device” has a committed cast and fun space to play.
But it also feels like a work in progress, both from the conceptual to the performance end, which may leave audiences stumped rather than stimulated.