From the opening moments of The Moving Company’s site-specific experience For Sale, we’re immersed in a haze of anxiety with an undertow of desperation—that particular sheen of sweat produced when accounts don’t balance and the creditors are knocking at the door. Luckily, it’s also a state of extremity just as likely to produce giddy, unhinged laughter.
It’s not that the tremulous real-estate agent (Sarah Agnew) who greets us on the landing above the Lab Theater’s open floor is having a particularly jolly time; she’s mucked up the open house in which we’re taking part, forgetting to bake us treats and generally giving the sense that she might collapse into a tearful heap at any moment. Not that we blame her, not after the arrival of her boss Dick Richards (Luverne Seifert), a guy who is so transparently desperate for a sale that one instinctively grasps one’s own wallet in self-preservation.
A good deal of what transpires next is an attempt by Dick and his assistant to show us around the theater and convince us to take it on—perhaps an extreme extension of the concept of audience buy-in, but one that works nonetheless. Seifert and Agnew give us salespeople who have crossed the border into desperation, and it’s fascinating to watch the cracks and fissures in their facades as a gloom of futility settles over things.
Of course this wouldn’t be enough to sustain an evening of theater, and the territory into which we next diverge is weird, varied, and somehow thematically satisfying. We have a young woman who speaks no English (Nathan Keepers, who also directs) squatting in the joint—at one point literally, on an exposed toilet—and seamlessly joining our team of cracked realtors in a mission that soon becomes tinged with the memories of places and the scattershot ways in which we sustain ourselves (or not).
Keepers next appears as an oddball caretaker (rappelling from on high, while later Agnew will perform a long sequence from a booth upstairs; rarely has the cavernousness of the Lab been used to such advantage) with long explications on the surreal provenance of the place, while Agnew’s realtor descends into lusty audience participation and attempts to appease the forces aligned against her boss. By the time the song-and-dance number arrives (yes, that’s right), it’s with a feeling of pleasing absurdity.
Peeking out from under the floorboards here are a couple of heady concepts: the cheapness of a life spent only buying and selling, and the grasping for renewal in the same breath that leads down dead ends and blind alleys. But it’s also true that this ace cast operates at a level that combines generosity and humor with the overall sense of ruin—they’re as open and engaged as the subject is cynical and increasingly dark. By the end we have indeed thoroughly bought in, and perhaps heard our own footsteps thudding on a couple of life’s treadmills and hamster wheels.