On a hilltop overlooking the sea in Japan there is a phone from which 25,000 people have called the dead. Somewhere in another plane, the Titanic steams towards an iceberg, but maybe this time it may miss it.
Communication, miscommunication, illusions and perceptions, PR and storytelling are neatly played upon in Thaddeus Phillips’ online Zoom show, Zoo Motel, in which are small audience are invited to check into to the budget establishment’s 21 rooms. In advance you are sent the on-line materials to create your own room key and the motel’s evacuation map. You will need the latter and a pack of cards for a mind-bending moment (courtesy of magic consultant, Steve Cuiffo) late in the show.
It’s a piece that gets off to a slow start but gradually gathers both emotional power and philosophical heft as it tells of a theatre director (Thaddeus Phillips) flying to Madrid, to make an important show about climate change and the end of the world. Oh, the irony. Confined to a motel room he discovers that the door has disappeared. But are there other ways to get out of the room and does it offer an unexpected window on the world?
Created and delivered from Phillips’ own home in Columbia near Bogota (stick around afterwards to see how what you have seen is a glorious illusion, courtesy of Phillips, his young son and designer Steven Dufala), Zoo Motel uses puppetry and magic, personal stories and Voyager’s Golden Record to create a home spun makeshift peephole into the marvels of theatre, the possibilities of the imagination to take us beyond confinement, and the human need to connect.
The last show I saw by Phillips, 17 Border Crossings, was an elegantly constructed storytelling piece about his own globe-trotting and safe passage. This latest piece, conceived and made in lockdown conditions, is a very different kind of journey but travels just as far.
Zoo Motel is available online to stream