The Satori Group has turned its International District studio into a forest glen. The floor is covered in dirt, the room is crowded with tree trunks, and tarps and blankets hang from wires and branches. Performers with flashlights invite audience members into the nighttime scene one by one, leading them to benches and folding chairs, assuring them that the soup will be vegan and they'll get some beer at intermission.
A collaboration between Satori and playwright Martyna Majok, reWilding is a collection of dramatic fragments, more like a Burroughs cut-up than a regular plot, that take place in a remote woodland community somewhere in contemporary America. Its residents are people who, for whatever reason, have decided they want to ditch their jobs and their lives to forage their own food, sew their own clothes, and reinvent the conditions of their lives. As one young resident (the lithe Greta Wilson) explains to "the new girl" (a wide-eyed LoraBeth Barr) as she guides her into the camp in the opening scene: "They come from all over. Some were en route to find work. Some were on road trips with nowhere to stop. Some were determined to get far away. Most were poor. Some see things differently, and that can be a terrible burden to bear... Some think the apocalypse is coming. Some think it's here."
Nobody in reWilding says the words "primitivism" or "anarchism," but that's the world these characters have created for themselves, and the play traces the contours of its benefits and drawbacks. On the upside, people share (including the cast sharing lentil soup, bread, and beer with the audience) and are left alone to live as they see fit. On the downside, a bearded, eccentric immigrant called Chicken Man (John Leith) might shoot out your car tires, or the kindly older woman who first took you in (Karen Jo Fairbrook) might turn you out, without much explanation, just before the season's first serious downpour. The price of freedom is unpredictability.
Directed by Caitlin Sullivan, reWilding's scenes are like shards thrown on the ground, creating more of a mood than a story. The strategy is entirely effective, and more satisfying than many traditional plays. Some characters change, of course: The new girl, through her trials by fire, transforms into a regular resident, and two young boys with conservative religious families (played with rambunctious glee by Quinn Franzen and Adam Standley) discover their desire for each other. Others just muddle along as we slowly discover who they are—why the troubled Chicken Man hates cars, or the frustration of one guy from Alaska who can't quite master the technology. ("I wanted to work with my hands," he says, in a moment of pathetic comedy. "This tent came out of a box. I see how people here look at me. My tent came out of a box.")
With 14 performers, an indoor set, and lots of dim, nighttime scenes—for this project, Marnie Cumings is less a lighting designer than a designer of shadows—Satori has created a creepy, immersive experience. The show isn't perfect (a few scenes could use some trimming), but it's a successful experiment.