Neighbors can really drive you nuts. Just look at The Tenant's protagonist Monsieur Trelkovsky, a Parisian bachelor who lucks into an apartment when he hears its former occupant is on death's door after a jumping out a window. As any apartment-hunting New Yorker knows, you can't hesitate when a real estate opportunity presents itself, and so Trelkovsky weasels his way into the woman's hospital room and successfully charms the shady landlady—by helping her root through the comatose woman's property. He gets the apartment, but it costs him his sanity. We've all been there!
Originally a 1964 novella by French illustrator Roland Topor, The Tenant was adapted into a haunting psycho-thriller by Roman Polanski in 1976. Now The Woodshed Collective, which produced the mesmerizing site-specific show The Confidence Manon an old steamship two summers ago, has revived the story with an ambitious production occupying five floors of the historic West-Park Presbyterian Church and its adjacent parish house, on the corner of 86th and Amsterdam. Upon arrival, spectators are directed to various points throughout the sprawling, decaying space. After watching a short, black & white prologue film set in the aforementioned hospital, the action begins, everywhere.
Like The Confidence Man and Punchdrunk's site-specific hit show, Sleep No Moore, The Tenant is comprised of multiple, intertwined narratives performed simultaneously in every corner of the parish house. You, the audience member, decide where to go and what to watch, following the eccentric apartment dwellers as they bicker, flirt, throw impromptu parties, rush up and down stairs screaming at each other, and get organized to banish their undesirable neighbor Trelkovsky. Why? Well, not only did he have friends over for a raucous party, but, well, he's got a Polish last name.
As you drift in and out of various rooms, you'll be privy to strange delights: a wannabe jazz singer boring his hosts with delusions of grandeur, a woman insisting over tea that she "didn't mummify my son," a radio show broadcast from inside a demented housewife's pantry, a scullery maid tap dancing in the courtyard. Carl Faber's marvelous lighting design creates an atmosphere of creepy anxiety, and it soon becomes clear that this is less an apartment building and more an insane asylum—and the neighbors won't rest until the new guy goes crazy too.
Each room has a vintage TV set, and at various points the players become still and huddle around the screens as a surreal, pre-recorded film sequence is broadcast. It's a great effect—the real-life characters in this elusive story transfixed by another layer of their own mysterious melodrama. Ultimately, The Tenant's narrative, which is comprised of the accumulative work of six playwrights, proves baffling, at least in the way it unfolded for us. But the show's dreamlike mood of sinister paranoia is so palpable and persuasive that it almost doesn't matter if the story loses you. The world they've created is a fascinating one to get lost in.
The Tenant is presented free of charge, and while all the tickets have been allotted, there is a waitlist for ever performance, starting a half-hour before showtime. Details here.