Tucked neatly into the outer ring of downtown Durham, Manbites Dog Theater's goal is to present shows that are as new and unusual as the theater's name. Contemplating Hannah Bos' and Paul Thureen's Cape Disappointment (developed by Oliver Butler and directed by Jay O'Berski), I must admit I wasn't sure what to expect – the only description of the play I could find was the tagline: "You're lost in a drive-in movie. Broken down by the side of the road to nowhere. At least it's not Detroit."
When I was told that I had my choice of a conventional seat or a rolling chair on the floor where all the action would be happening, I was even more skeptical. (I chose the rolling chair!)
Cape Disappointment rotates deftly between three or four different plotlines – it is hard to tell where one stops and another begins – and continues to build suspense throughout the full 75-minute show. Adventurous audience members rolled right into the center of the floor and giggled nervously, feeling like young children breaking a rule by playing in the middle of the stage. When the characters started rolling around in cars heading right through our mob, we hurriedly wheeled ourselves out of the way – a frequent occurrence throughout the play and one which definitely added an element of surprise!
The play explores the dynamics between different types of couples - siblings, business partners, mother and daughter, pedophile and little girl - with relationships illuminated as the plot unfolds. Many venture in unexpected directions – as do the cars driven by characters who remain unaware of the audience's interaction with the play.
The actors maintained immense self-control and did not betray their characters, even when veering directly into the center of the audience. Ishai Buchbinder, Dana Marks, Jeffrey Moore, and Annie Zipper did excellent jobs with a strange assortment of personalities, each actor portraying as many as four different characters. Their performances were, alternately, humorous, dramatic, terrifying, awkward, and thought-provoking, and their efforts definitely provided a workout for the audience, not only physically but mentally and emotionally as well. We were always on edge as the plot teetered between hilarious and off-putting.
Part drive-in movie, part flashback, and part complete suspense, Cape Disappointment is the most delightfully awkward play I have ever experienced. Bizarre and unique, this work of experimental theater is a choose-your-own adventure, from wheeling oneself into the center of the performance area to sitting in the risers, trying to figure out what is actually happening within the play, including the ambiguous ending. As one woman in the audience remarked at the end when the lights slowly rose, "Is it over? And what was it about? I feel like I need an encore in order to know!"
For those who feel up for an adventure, Cape Disappointment continues April 8 at 3:15 p.m. and April 11-14 at 8:15 p.m. See the sidebar for details.