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Review: Exterior. Pool-night 

The NOLA Project takes a dip into an immersive performance

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Photo by Jeremy Blum

If you want to dip a toe into The NOLA Project's latest immersive theater experience, be sure to wear a bathing suit, because you might get wet (swimming is welcome after the show). Exterior. Pool-Night, an original play written and directed by founding artistic director Andrew Larimer, is staged in and around the pool on the 11th floor of the Aloft New Orleans Downtown hotel, as well as in the streets of the CBD. The location looks like a movie set, and the audience is almost part of the action.

  At the elevator of the Aloft, theatergoers are given headphones and tiny radios tuned into Beach Boys music, setting the scene. Poolside, a starlet (Audrey Wagner) treads water, sporting a vintage red and white bikini as people arrange themselves on lounge chairs or sit at the pool's edge.

  Veronica (Natalie Boyd), excitedly tells her agent she sold her screenplay, and their conversation is captured through a shotgun microphone as she moves around the pool deck. Images projected onto the hotel wall come from a live camera feed and pre-edited videos. Larimer and sound designer Nick Frederick, an experienced ham radio operator, found radios, FM transmitters and open broadcast channels to facilitate long-range clarity.

  The play's film director, actor and celebrity Shia LeBeouf (Alex Martinez Wallace) mangles Veronica's screenplay about her grandfather Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine, injecting sex scenes and monsters for greater marketability. Boyd is terrific as the naive writer, jockeying with the egotistical Hollywood director to redeem her distorted script.

  In Act 2, actors lead the audience off-site in different directions. Radios and headphones allowed our group to listen in as Tucker (Alec Barnes) gave Veronica a pep talk, while we walked on the other side of Roosevelt Way. Tucker and Veronica improvised as they passed a jazz combo on the street.

  Trailing the couple allowed the audience to get a "wide shot" of the characters against an urban backdrop, recalling memorable movie scenes with another exasperated screenwriter, Woody Allen, frustrated by B-list Hollywood directors in a traveling conversation with actress Diane Keaton. Mikey (A.J. Allegra) plays the nerdy, Woody Allen-like love interest opposite the luscious starlet Mia.

  Larimer described his approach: "The show, visually, is trying to compare the tool sets of theater (spontaneity, intimacy and being a singular unrepeatable moment) and film (use of multiple locations, greater visual control, special effects, etc.)."

  Immersion theater has proved popular in New York and London, where large budgets can create elaborate experiences for audiences to freely explore, some at their own pace. But in trying to imitate these high-rolling shows, the technology used in Exterior. Pool-Night added little to the comedy. Veronica and Tucker led the group to a tourist shop, but there was no actual point to being there. While interesting and offbeat, the mechanics transformed a play into performance art.

  Exterior. Pool-Night is an evening of enjoyable kitschy comedy, but it would have benefited from a greater emphasis on plot and less on gadgetry.

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