After stepping out of the little black Fiat where Greg Wohead’s one-on-one performance The Backseat of My Car (and other safe places) occurred last Friday night, I found myself struck by a series of instructions Wohead gives the participatory audience member:
You look out the window
You touch my arm
You lean in closer
A little closer
A little closer
You look away
You ask me to take you home
You open the door and walk away
None of these actions were asked for nor took place back-to-back. Yet strung along together as they were in my mind post show, the phrases seemed to form the refrain to an adolescent anthem we have all rocked out to at some point in time.
The brief performance began when an usher walked me out of Georgia Tech’s Ferst Center for the Arts and out to Wohead’s car, where he was expecting me with a kind, nervous smile. Once I settled into the front seat, he handed me a wig and explained the premise. I would be “Cathy” who has just finished playing the flute at band practice and he would be himself. There would be described actions that were just part of the story and then there would also be actions given as directions for me to complete as part of the performance (the list above). I agreed to do my part and put on the chestnut bob.
We swiftly moved to Mesquite, Texas, where it was 1997 and we were 16. I imagine my participatory skills were strengthened by the fact that I was 16 back in 1997. When Wohead turned on a song by The Cranberries–a favorite CD of Cathy’s–I can easily remember the conflicting states of ennui and hope (what did the future hold?!) that this cheesy song engendered. But Wohead was also prepared to help other generations connect to his story. He deftly described our drive through the rural suburbs down to the lake. He was gentle and earnest. He listened to Cathy complain about her older boyfriend as we talked for hours. But before I knew it or was ready, a very real climax was upon us…we leaned in close to each other and locked eyes. An intense few moments followed where neither of us knew what the other was thinking or what would happen.
But anyone who has made it through to adulthood ultimately knows how this episode ends. Certainly the members of The Cranberries did. We hovered in that missed opportunity to connect on a deeper or more physical level with another human, which, though over in a flash, can be pondered in depth later.
In the span of a few short minutes, Wohead created an idyllic reenactment of this classic teenage experience, when something big is on the verge of happening, yet doesn’t. The intimate setting and brief run time, helped this micro-show to float in the land of bittersweet nostalgia without melting into melancholy or cliche. I walked away from the car with a smile on my face, happy that stepping into Wohead’s memory had triggered, and perhaps pleasantly colored, my own remembrances of innocence and youth.