The Pied Piper’s tune was so irresistible that rats followed it to their deaths, and the children of Hamelin skipped after the Piper into a mountain tomb. Kamchàtka exercises a similarly spellbinding – though, thankfully, not fatal – allure. Eight members of the Barcelona-based theater troupe are here for La Jolla Playhouse’s WithOut Walls (WoW) Festival, which opened yesterday and runs through Sunday. Last night, where Kamchàtka led, I followed. And the journey raised juicy questions about dissolving the fourth or possibly the fifth wall and turning theater into life.
It was love-at-first-sight when Kamchàtka appeared on the plaza outside the Forum Theatre. Each of the performers – five men and three women – wore a shabby gray overcoat and carried a suitcase (the boxy kind without wheels, for those who remember them). Immigrants from a poorer, less confident country, they glanced around timidly and moved as a group, taking small, careful steps. Silently, through their expressive faces and gestures, they enticed people to play with them – marveling at the mobile phone one man handed them, gently approaching a fascinated but shy little girl.
Moving on to the Taper Plaza, they got people to lie on the ground, using the suitcases as pillows. A woman got into the game, placing French fries in the mouths of the people lying down. (Bonus food review: The fries, from the God Save the Cuisine food truck, are outstanding.)
Kamchatka (which I find myself thinking of as a single entity) headed toward the street, leaving the festival for the world. That was when things got edgy and really interesting. Forming a cordon in the street, they blocked a campus shuttle bus. It wasn’t clear to me if they wanted the driver to let them get on the bus. She didn’t open the door. (She was in the left of two lanes, and there are probably rules against opening the door in traffic.) She wanted to keep going. They didn’t get out of the way. One of the men climbed into the bus through the driver’s window, clambering over her. She picked up a phone, making a complaint – though I’m speculating, because she couldn’t be heard. And this wasn’t just brief clowning; they persisted for at least ten minutes.
Among the couple dozen of us who’d gaily trooped behind Kamchatka, several people were laughing wildly; some even started a chant, “Let them in! Let them in!” Maybe they really thought this was the most hilarious thing they’d ever seen, but I suspect the laughter was partly nervous. The bus driver was just trying to do her job, and did she feel angry? threatened? like she was being made the butt of a joke? It’s one thing to get pulled into street theater when you’ve gone someplace intending to experience theater, even if the performers breach the fourth wall and come to you. But what if you’re in the real street, and you’re not having fun but feeling bullied?
I felt bad for the bus driver; I hope that, for her, the incident will be one of those rotten days that turns into a great story later on. Nevertheless, I loved it that Kamchatka didn’t just enchant me but made me squirm. I wanted to hear their conversations afterward – did all of them felt fine about “playing with” the bus driver for so long, or did some wish they’d stopped? I woke up at 4:30 today still thinking about it. And I was going to rearrange my schedule to see them downtown at noon today, but found out it wasn’t happening. Maybe they’re in jail; there were several police cars outside the theater when I left last night. Now, that would blur the line between art and life.
Kamchatka is scheduled to appear again at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in the Festival Village (the public areas outside the theaters). There’s no admission. Just be there and look for eight waiflike people carrying a bit of baggage.