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A CurtainUp Review
Downtown Loop
By Tyler Plosia

"Yes, there is swearing. There will be swearing. With apologies to the little ones. Or to the big ones who are custodial over the little ones. Swearing, not only when essential."— Tour Guide
The Downtown Loop
Greg Carere and Mia Jessup
(Photo credit: Todd Carroll)
Depending on your perspective, The Downtown Loop just barely qualifies as theater. Like many contemporary productions, it's a piece that incorporates a lot of video. In Downtown's case, the video is non-stop. Seamlessly connected projections of the streets of 2013 New York (interspersed with infrequent close-ups of the story's central characters) line the walls of the performance space, providing an endlessly watchable looping backdrop for the live action.

And the use of the physical space itself isn't exactly traditional, either. Audience members occupy a barely-slanted fake roof of a fake tour bus, befitting the setting of the narrative. Those who patronize 3LD for a performance of The Downtown Loop are in store for a factually falsified and somewhat interactive tour of present-day New York — only the tour is set in the unspecified future.

This premise, along with the innovative production design, is imaginative at its best and unwieldy at its worst. Considering the overall quality of the acting, this is a generous characterization.

Greg Carere leads the way as our Tour Guide. At first, his acting comes off as unremarkable, but his task is not a simple one. He gets into audience members' faces often, and even when he's not quite that close, he's never far away enough to avoid witnessing our facial expressions. Given the closeness of the performers to the audience, Carere's ability to consistently convince is commendable.

But Carere's supporting cast doesn't help him out much. Tour bus Trainee Sam Soghor trades any attempt at sincerity for cheaply garnered laughs (which he getsfrom the more willing members of the crowd). Keelie A. Sheridan recurs as an obvious but not expressly stated ex-girlfriend of the Tour Guide (she's billed simply as "Her"). She does have an ability to shift smoothly between seemingly contradictory stances, but she isn't given enough stage time to make much of an impact. Like Sheridan, the ideas in the script don't linger long enough to make a real impact.

This is the New York of future, so please, tell us, the New Yorkers of the present, what does it look like? What's changed? What's the same? But, except for a few throwaway jokes about the affordability of Jupiter, there's none of that.

The avoidance of the future doesn't appear to be unintentional. It works instead as an examination of the past — that is, our present — from a potentially realized future. The story does not presume to be predictive. It's not that the ideas ring out as half-formed, but that they're half-written.

Downtown shies away from being a thorough examination of the present as seen from the future, and instead functions primarily as a character study for the future's tour. It makes for a poetic log line, and Carere does the best he can with the situation he's given. But all the enticingly familiar video footage in the world (or in the city) isn't enough to distract from Ben Gassman's problematic writing.

The Downtown Loop
By Ben Gassman
Directed by Meghan Finn
Cast: Greg Carere (Tour Guide), Sam Soghor (Trainee), Keelie A. Sheridan (Her), Mia Jessup (Finnish Woman), Sarah Mollo-Christensen (Basque Woman), Robert Metz (Shimon), Hakan Tolga Polat (Faoud)
Sound System Designer: Marcelo Anez
Props Master: Danielle Baskin
Sound Designer: Jon Bernstein
Costume Desinger: Emily Blumenauer
Lighting Designer/Stage Management: Sarah Johnston
Dramaturg: Allison Lyman
Video Designer: Jared Mezzocchi
Set Designer: David Ogle
Assistant Director: Moema Umann
Graphic Designer: Piama Habibullah
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
3LD Art and Technology Center 80 Greenwich Street, at Rector
From 10/15/13; opening 10/23/13; closing 11/16/13.
Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 PM; Saturday at 3:00 PM & 8:00 PM.
Tickets are $25.
Reviewed by Tyler Plosia based on performance October 17th, 2013
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