On Saturday, my mom and I went to the Claire Tow Theatre to see Stop Hitting Yourself. When we took in the stage and the set, our mouths dropped because everything was painted entirely gold. And I mean everything. There was a giant blinking dollar sign, a piano, a suit of armor, even a queso fountain. All gold. And for a good 15 minutes, the audience had nothing to do but look at it, and wonder... When was the show going to start?
After we got over the whole gold theme, we spotted this guy who looked like the freaking Geico Caveman lying on the stage in his boxers, with something that I assumed was cheese, slowly dripping down his body. Yup. It only got weirder. So, this poor guy had to lie on stage and pretend to be dead or asleep or whatever for this whole time. I kind of felt bad for him. The actor, I mean.
Finally, the rest of the cast entered the stage and just sat down and smiled at the audience. Then Mr. Geico Caveman woke up and introduced himself as the "wild man" and asked if anyone would mind helping him up. There was a pause, followed by some nervous laughter. The wild man repeated his question. Oh, I see. He actually wants one of us to get on stage and help him. I'm a huge sucker for any kind of interactive theatre, and I'm always one of the first people to jump at any opportunity to be a less passive audience member. But I have to say, I wasn't too jazzed about the idea of physically helping up this half naked guy who was covered in cheese. Luckily, another woman from the audience came to my rescue, and more importantly, the rescue of the wild man. She helped him to stand and then she returned back to her seat. Already I was regretting not doing it myself.
The wild man simply scratched his head and produced from his knotted locks a twenty dollar bill, waving it in the air. He addressed the audience directly and asked if anyone wanted the twenty bucks. Vowing not to let another chance slip by, my hand shot up almost before he finished his question and I was invited on stage to accept my money. I couldn't believe my good fortune! I had paid twenty dollars for my ticket and I already had the money back in my hands. But I had barely returned to my seat before the wild man said to me "Actually, I think we should probably give that to the woman who helped me up." So I listened to him (albeit grudgingly) and passed my newly acquired bill down the row until the first volunteer got her money. The wild man, probably having seen the annoyance on my face, looked at me and said "Call it charity." Then he and the other actors broke out into a tap dance.
Now, the tap dance was cooler than your average tap dance, because we were told to close our eyes and then open them on every eight count. So it was something along the lines of CLOSE, two, three, four, five, six, seven, OPEN. And every time we opened our eyes the actors would be frozen in some crazy formation. It was an awesome effect, and I felt bad for the people in the audience who stubbornly left their eyes open the whole time. They really missed out on something special. At one point I opened my eyes on the count of eight, and one of the actresses was leaning inches away from me, causing me to scream and her to laugh at my reaction.
Periodically throughout the show, an actor would pull out a wad of bills and ask the audience if any of them wanted a dollar. I think after what happened with me, everyone was a little wary and didn't want to be tricked. But the actor insisted that it was easy money. And so a man volunteered and ran up on stage to collect his dollar. Before he got his so called "easy money," however, the actor asked the man to bark like a dog for him. The man complied and was one dollar richer. The actor asked if anyone else wanted a dollar and a woman raised her hand and went up on stage. To the woman, the man asked if she would show her belly button to the audience. And the woman quickly lifted her shirt, snatched her bill and returned to her seat. After this a strange feeling of unease settled over the crowd. And this time, when the actor asked if anyone wanted a dollar, there were no volunteers, and the actor simply smiled.
When the actors weren't offering us money, they were bravely confessing truths about themselves. They stood in a line on the bottom step of the stage, and one after another they would reveal something, not about their character, but about them individually, personally. The actress playing the socialite confessed that she makes fun of the food orders of overweight people in order to make herself feel better about her own choices. The actress playing the maid said that she allows her children to dress themselves because it helps build independence. However, if they select something she doesn't like, she'll purposely spill food on them so they'll have to change. These confessions personalized the play for me in a way that is hard to put into words. Just witnessing them airing all their dirty laundry was a reminder of how secrets, those nasty things that are responsible for distancing people from each other, are also a universal.
Stop Hitting Yourself certainly hit home for me. As I left the theatre, I couldn't help thinking about the show's message: "abandon greed," and how my earlier irritation at having to give away twenty dollars seemed ridiculous all of a sudden. It did make me wonder: How far would people be willing to go for money? And what does that say about us?