“The Object Lesson”

-The object lesson_1

A friend invited me to see “The Object Lesson” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, a play about clutter, because as she said, of all her friends, she knew I would be the one interested in a play about the subject of clutter.

We walked into a theater space stacked to the ceiling with boxes and filled with a large card catalog, transforming the space “into an epic storage facility of gargantuan proportion.” The audience is encouraged to rummage through boxes and open drawers to take a look at the stuff that will become part of this performance piece by physical theater artist Geoff Sobelle, who wrote and stars in the play. Motivated by a move, and the necessity to sort through his belongings, the author faces his stuff, objects tied to memories, or feelings, or specific times in his life, and comes away with a new perspective.

The play asks us: “Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have? Imagine every ‘thing’ that ever passed through your hands—a massive, meaningful, meaningless pile of junk that describes in debris your tiny human history.”

Ben Brantley, in his review of the play in the New York Times, says it reminded him of his parents’ attic. “In their later years, my parents used to tease each other with the threat that whoever lived longer would be forced to deal with (ominous organ chords) the Attic. It was a fearsome prospect, for within the cramped upper level of their otherwise manageable house lurked the flotsam and jetsam of at least four generations of their family’s lives.” How true if that for many of us?

Seeing someone else’s stuff in such massive quantities compels us to think about our own possessions: what we keep and what we toss, what we live with and what we store, what we sell and what we donate, what we fix up and what we buy new.

The best line in the play: “There is a fine line between vintage and crap.” Much food for thought here.

Linda Hetzer is an editor and author of books on home designcrafts, and food, and coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home

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