Review: 'The Prohibition Project' by Troy Foundry Theatre, 3/8/19
By Steve Barnes
Updated 5:45 pm EST, Saturday, March 9, 2019
TROY – At one point during "The Prohibition Project: Ilium Was," an immersive original work from the iconoclasts at Troy Foundry Theatre that explores the Collar City in the 1920s, two of the characters stand holding Molotov cocktails.
They're unlit, which is probably a good thing in the low-ceilinged space of Collar Works gallery that is this production's home, but the potential is there, as is the message: The Foundry folks want to burn down many conventions of theater. And that seemed just fine with Friday's full opening-night audience, a cross-section of people unlike any I've ever seen at a theater production that wasn't a Foundry show: hipsters, politicians, students, seniors, musicians and a retired doctor or two.
Directed Brenna Geffers, who also directed Troy Foundry Theatre's production of "La Ronde" last spring, "The Prohibition Project" was created with Philadelphia's Die-Cast Theatre, which Geffers co-founded. The writing is credited collectively to the creative team.
Like "La Ronde" – which was staged in a historic rowhouse, where multiple scenes took place simultaneously on different rooms and floors – scenes and vingnettes in "The Prohibition Project" happen at the same time around the Collar Works space. Actors and audience move among more than 10 distinct playing areas around the room as the hourlong performance progresses.
By design, you can't see every scene; you choose your own experience by following characters as they roam the gallery, or you stay put for a while at a playing space – one with multiple old radio consoles, or one set with booze bottles, or another with a political backdrop – and see who shows up there next.
But although there is no single narrative, nor even a general overall story, at least that can be gleaned from a single viewing, the continuous, flowing action of "The Prohibition Project" makes it more successful and satisfying than "La Ronde." You feel swept up in the bustling life of Prohibition-era Troy, which had a population of about 75,000 – 50 percent higher than today – and was home to multiple factories making detachable shirt collars. (The hulking Collar Works building, at 621 River St., once was a collar factory and continued in the textile business until the 1980s. Most fittingly for the Troy of today, it is now filled with five floors of studios and apartments for artists.)
As always with Foundry Theatre, the acting is impeccable from each of the dozen-member cast. Named after their principle roles in life, they're simply called things like The Rabbi, The Fed, The Fixer and The Numbers Girl, and though you don't get to know them as you would in a conventional play, they're part of a rich pageant of a city of turmoil and change.
The action sweeps along, with scenes between and among socialists, prizefighters, politicians, labor agitators, immigrants and more, the overlapping narratives often intruding on one another, except at the few times when the company comes together for extraordinary single moments. In their unison breaths, you hear the life force of a city.
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If you go
"The Prohibition Project: Ilium Was"
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: Troy Foundry Theatre at Collar Works gallery, 621 River St., Troy
Running time: One hour, no intermission
Continues: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through March 17
Tickets: $18 ($15 seniors, $10 students)