The Stranger 2.0: Above & Below pushes boundaries and gets you to think about your life


THE STRANGER 2.0: ABOVE & BELOW by Daniele Bartolini (Dopo Lavoro Teatrale). At a secret location. Runs to September 29. $50. Rating: NNNN

A new version of Daniele Bartolini’s popular interactive production The Stranger offers audiences another opportunity to engage in a series of fun and existential vignettes that push boundaries and facilitate philosophical reflection. 

Designed for two audience members, this real-life choose-your-own-adventure experience offers either an “Above” or “Below” option. My own experience was a solo version of “Above.”

Twenty-four hours before the designated start time, you receive an email with instructions detailing the location and some general indications of what to expect. You may find such secrecy annoying or thrilling – either way it’s the foundation of the spontaneity this show relies on. 

The first performers ask if you’ve ever wondered how things might be if you’d made a different choice at some point in your life. From there you’re taken on a personalized journey of episodic but interrelated scenes designed to engage your intuitions and creativity, from city sidewalks to cramped offices. 

Ranging widely in mood and energy, each scene possesses an intimate intensity. Some parts are playful, like when I found myself dancing down the street to the amusement of onlookers; at other times, the performer asks direct questions in what felt to me like one of the most existential conversations I’ve ever had. The set-up requires a lot of trust and connection, made possible by the grounded, authentic performances of each cast member. 

Yet the show’s explicitly stated theme of what it means to be at a crossroads never really emerges. There are overarching questions throughout, from what it means to be curious about the world, how to engage with others and your environment, to the limits of our agency, but the scenes themselves focus on immediacy, attentiveness and reflection, only returning to the question of choice at the end. 

Thematic issues aside, I left feeling relaxed and more connected to my immediate environment. Your mileage may vary, and creativity and courage will be rewarded.