The Convention of Cartography
Empty Space Theatre (off-site), 912 Maynard Ave S, 547-7500.
Through July 21.

The Convention of Cartography is a play/museum that deconstructs the concept of the museum while breaking down the barrier between actor and audience. The fast-moving performance centers on the work of a quirky man named Mike (Don Downing), an "itinerant artist and philosopher" who traveled the country, leaving poems and crafts in his wake before dying of cancer. As a teenager, Paul Johnson (John Paulsen) befriended Mike; now he has pieced together a home-video documentary and a small collection of Mike's oddball artwork (poems written on napkins and cardboard, collaged art boxes). Paul presents these with the help of his wife, Laurie (Laurie Jerger), then invites the audience behind a curtain to look over the couple's traveling museum.

Once audience members leave their seats, they're asked to look over a collection of tables and the inside of a trailer, all showcasing itemized pieces borrowed, bought, and donated from people who came into contact with Mike and his lover Ida (Heidi Schreck). The ramshackle display is an interesting stretch of the museum concept, as most of the items (rambling poetry, maps, hotel stationery, shrines to Ida) look more like kitschy crafts from an old folks' home than artwork deserving of a nationwide tour. But it's not the items that make the play (although the attention to detail in creating these pieces is impressive); it's the way the audience is sucked into Mike's world through the earnest performances of Paul and Laurie, the happy Iowa couple diligently memorializing a lost friend. Throughout the performance, you feel less like you're watching a stuffy theatrical production and more like you're stepping into the world of performance/installation art, where everything--from your surroundings to your conversations with the cast--only adds to your experience.