Lawrence Toppman

‘Bohemian Grove:’ Unrepeatable, unmissable theater

No, it’s not “The Cabin in the Woods” -- it’s XOXO’s “Bohemian Grove.”
No, it’s not “The Cabin in the Woods” -- it’s XOXO’s “Bohemian Grove.” George Hendricks

I’m certain I understood one aspect of “Bohemian Grove:” the Wal-Mart stop. Buy snacks, hit the rest room, stretch legs. Got it.

The rest of the event, from being picked up in a parking lot near Actor’s Theatre on Stonewall Street to being deposited there almost four hours later? I’m still sorting that out, though with pleasure.

The show (if one can call it that) bears many trademarks of XOXO, formerly called Machine Theatre.

Characters pass through a barrier between this life and another one – and, as the audience moves with them across a quarter-mile of rural land, so do we. Authority figures look for children who have undertaken a journey. Silliness and solemnity entwine.

This time, though, the stakes seem higher. “Bohemian Grove” goes to a contemplative place Machine’s work has not, in my experience. To analyze it further would be to spoil the experience.

And that’s the right noun, because it begins from the moment the van leaves with XOXO’s Matt Cosper at the wheel. He says almost nothing to prepare you, except that anything that ensues may be part of the plan. (I missed a bit of the effect, because the prerecorded sounds he plays en route didn’t function Thursday.)

For example, the van passes a graveyard as it wends toward a farm in Clover, S.C. Is Cosper a Charon, ferrying us to the next world? Maybe, may not. (The Wal-Mart is just a Wal-Mart.)

When you arrive, two nearly silent nurses offer drinks and conduct you on foot around the premises. You meet a timid sheriff and a confident deputy (Jordan Ellis and Caroline Bower), who seek two missing kids (Chris Herring and Karina Roberts-Caporino).

This pursuit takes you down a driveway to a road, where one nurse offers an option: If you don’t want to go on, “You could sit in the van like a fuddy-duddy hey Mr. No Fun.” Of course, you go on. Here I seal my lips, except to say that a long encounter with ukulele-playing Carmella (Nicia Carla) exerts a unique spell.

Do I know why we see the deputy through a farmhouse window, combing the hair on a tiny toy pony, or why we stop at a carport to watch the kids dance to the Hollywood Argyles’ “Alley-Oop?” (So nice, they do it twice.) Sure don’t. It may have something to do with the gap between public selves and secret selves.

What matters most is mood, and the second half of the piece inspires a rapt peacefulness. Or so it was with me: At one point, each member of the audience goes away for a private session that could leave us all with different responses.

If you’re tempted to go to one of the performances through May 30, know four things: Few spaces await, because only a dozen people go at one time. DEET keeps flying things at bay.

You’ll want the proffered refreshment, whether water (to stay hydrated) or wine (to have an enhanced evening). And don’t pass up the Wal-Mart stop, or you’ll be looking for a concealing tree two hours later.

Toppman: 704-358-5232

‘Bohemian Grove’

The event begins at 7 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through May 30. Tickets are $50 and include drinks; reservations are required. Details: xoxoperformance.org.

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