This Kathryn Yu review was originally published by No Proscenium on October 9th, 2020.
“And what are your object’s pronouns?” asks decluttering expert Mary Del Campo.
She waits, patiently, for an answer. The person she’s addressing seems taken aback as well. He’s holding an old floppy disk in his hand, something that he hasn’t had a use for, well, “since high school,” he admits.
I peer into his Zoom background, which shows a study filled with books, papers, boxes, knick knacks, toys, and more. I am now even more grateful for my virtual background.
The other seminar attendees, muted, look on, eagerly.
“Uh… it’s an it, I guess,” he finally spits out.
Judging from the reactions on the Zoom grid, we seem equally split between relief and disbelief at this answer.
And our host takes this in stride and continues on.
OBJECTIVITY: From Clutter to Clarity with Mary Del Campo, created by Jeff and Andy Crocker (better known as Mister and Mischief) and presented by the Warehouse Theatre, is ostensibly an intimate Zoom seminar about getting rid of the stuff you no longer need or want in your life. This livestreamed experience gathers groups of up to 25 people together, who all arrive clutching that one thing that they wish to get rid of.
It is a show that seems utterly of the current moment, as society in the United States passes the 6-month mark of self-isolation and a number of us have stayed mostly at home every day due to the pandemic. If we’re lucky enough to be working remotely, our routines have greatly simplified; they take us from the bedroom to whatever makeshift office we’ve cobbled together, be it on a couch or at the kitchen table, and back to the bedroom each night. And, as to be expected, we’re in the presence of all of our Earthly possessions essentially 24/7.
(Very light spoilers follow.)
Which is where professional tidier Mary Del Campo, played by the patient, welcoming Jessica Eckenrod Cherry, comes in. She leads our eager group through a series of rituals about the objects we wish to get rid of as we hold them up to our webcams. Turn your camera on to answer “yes,” turn it off to answer “no.” She asks for volunteers from the audience to discuss their unwanted objects with her: where they came from, what purpose they’re serving right now, and why we haven’t gotten rid of them quite yet. (And as someone who moved across the country last year and desperately tried to give away as many things as possible, I feel a little shameful at the mess that now populates my living space.)
But, spoiler: just when it seems like this performance is going to play out as predicted, at least one participant refuses to go along with Mary. This pushback is delivered to us in a hilarious and unexpected way. That OBJECTIVITY goes off the rails isn’t truly surprising, but, what is noteworthy is the execution of this narrative turn. (To say too much more would be to ruin the effect.) And perhaps I should have expected the unexpected from this creative team? Mister and Mischief’s previous experience — Escape From Godot — was powered by self-awareness and absurdist humor while mashing together two things that really shouldn’t have worked at all (escape rooms and Beckett). That this follow up experience finds itself in the same vein is enough to make anyone who fancies themselves “a funny person” jealous.
Mister and Mischief demonstrate a deft touch with the subject matter and the cast of OBJECTIVITY skillfully thread the needle of encouraging people to consider, examine, organize, purge, or even hold onto their possessions. And they do it without casting judgment or seeming overly preachy. It’s a testament to their improvisational and musical theatre skills (yes, you read that correctly) that OBJECTIVITY even works in the first place. The interactive comedy cheerfully skewers self-help culture, self-proclaimed gurus, the carefully constructed facades of social media influencers, and exactly why holding onto objects for sentimental reasons is “bad,” anyway.
If all this seems mean-spirited or unnecessary on paper, rest assured, it is not. In fact, the lesson of OBJECTIVITY is that it’s perfectly normal to be subjective when evaluating our personal belongings. Keeping objects in our lives that no longer serve a useful purpose is both human and natural; that this old pile of DVDs or that useless picture frame or this creepy antique doll can actually serve to ground us and remind us of what’s important. They can be physical manifestations of our past, our present, and — possibly — our future selves.
And, really, what more can we ask from our stuff?
The Warehouse Theatre’s OBJECTIVITY runs through October 17th. Each seminar is limited to 25 participants and tickets are $25.
Run time is approximately 1 hour.