Von Jay Gabler
07.01.2010 / TC Daily Planet
Prior to Thursday night, I swore that the most comfortable theater seating in the area was to be found at Osseo’s Yellow Tree Theatre, where audience members sit in spacious deck chairs. I’ve revised my opinion, though: at least through the end of the month, you’re not going to find a more comfortable theater seat than a leather desk chair in a private office on the 40th floor of the IDS tower. That’s where you’ll sit if you sign up to “attend” (and you should) Call Cutta in a Box, an “intercontinental phone play” by the Swiss-German performance-art collective Rimini Protokoll, presented in Minneapolis by the Walker Art Center.
What’s an intercontinental phone play? Well, you arrive at the headquarters of the real-life law firm Lindquist and Vennum, and you’re shown to the office that will be yours for an hour. (Mine had a stunning view of south Minneapolis.) After a few minutes, the phone rings—and it’s for you. The caller? A person working at an ordinary commercial phone bank in Kolkata, India. Or so you’re told.
To say much more would be to spoil the many pleasant (and one or two slightly unpleasant) surprises that await you. It’s an interactive experience, and to some extent, as I was told on my way in, it is what you make of it. When I emerged, the Walker staff seemed surprised that I reported having neither sung nor danced over the course of the performance. Apparently most people do.
There’s a bit of high-tech trickery involved, and if you want more bang for your 20 bucks than just an hourlong phone conversation, you’ll get it—but in the end, it turns out, that’s not really the point. Like the Dan Graham pavilions currently on view in the Walker’s galleries, the piece really is as much about you as it is about any German artist or Indian telemarketer. I suppose there are people who might emerge angry, or bored, or frustrated, but if you’re at all like me and the other people I encountered attending the performance, you’ll walk out with a goofy grin on your face, charmed and bemused.
Walking down Nicollet on my way home, it occurred to me that the piece has the effect that Alejandro González Iñárritu strives to achieve with his films: illuminating the unexpected connections among people in diverse, far-flung locations. In my roundup of 2009’s best plays, I mentioned that “the best productions resonate far beyond the theater, changing the way you think about your life.” Call Cutta in a Box does that.