From the start, Yale Cabaret’s “Crumbs” is different.
I entered the black box of 217 Park St. to find not a stage or actors but ten round tables, each holding a glass of water. I grabbed a seat and awkwardly glanced around, not really knowing what to expect from the tagline, “Get lost in the woods.”
Suddenly, a voice. A woman spoke, her thickly-accented words emanating from speakers throughout the room. We were about to embark on a journey to escape the woods, she said, and our only guide was the mute stage manager, who delivered a tin box to each table.
“Don’t ask him to talk; he’s sensitive about it,” said the Voice.
She also said there were rules. The audience was meant to follow any written instruction, read the script when asked to do so, and make sure someone was always decorating the gingerbread house in the corner. Then she told us to open our tins, bade us farewell, and was gone.
The Cabaret’s focus this season gives a different, refreshing perspective on theater, or so it felt as “Crumbs” went on. Conceived by Anne Seiwerath and Sonia Finley, the play is part treasure hunt, part social mixer, and part fairy tale. The name was, presumably, derived from Hansel and Gretel’s story, and the inclusion of twigs, stones, a fireplace, and the aforementioned gingerbread house gives credence to this claim.
There’s also no director — the performance is 100 percent audience-driven and moved forward only at the rate that we found new clues.
Much like the ill-fated siblings, the audience followed a trail of crumbs (in the form of written clues) to progress through the play. One clue directed us to open a pile of umbrellas and hang them from the ceiling, creating a surreal candy house feel that only added to the general sense of washed out fairy tale.
Initially, I only observed; I felt mildly uncomfortable, much like an outsider. But “Crumbs” successfully drew the audience together and I soon found myself excitedly reading one of the clues, proud to have solved the previous one. A few clues later, we had banded together and had almost escaped the woods.
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“Crumbs” also managed to create a few moments of powerful poignancy, despite the lack of a proper cast, that would not occur within the confines of conventional theater. The combination of music and lights in crescendo heightened the experience to almost cathartic levels of emotion. I wasn’t ready for “Crumbs” to be moving.
But these moments were a little too few for my liking. The continuous search for “crumbs” gave the performance a game-like feel, more like an adventure than a play. And some of the clues, like bread crumbs too easy to spot on the forest ground, were inelegantly simple.
Supposed to last for an hour, the play ended after only forty minutes, much too short for the fun I was having. Parts of the journey felt unnecessarily rushed — honestly, content with the gentle stroll as I was, I never felt the need to actually escape the woods. I wanted to keep playing, but I wasn’t sure that was the point of the play.
Overall, though, “Crumbs” successfully leads its audience out of the woods. And even though I left the Cabaret wanting just a little more — Hansel and Gretel do have a witch — the performance stands out as one of the most original works to go up this season.
“Crumbs” will show at the Yale Cabaret until Oct. 9.