Since 2003, Brighton, England-based Tim Crouch and his collaborators have been making theatre that defies description, convention, and expectations—and Adler & Gibb, playing the Kirk Douglas Theatre through January 29, 2017, is no exception. Crouch wrote, co-directed, and acts in the production; before he became a theatre maker, he was an actor. On his website, he explains, "Early work was made in response to a self-generated impulse to tell a story or explore a form."
Crouch talked about what he sees as the difference between writing and acting—and what thrills him about both aspects of theatre—in a 2014 interview with Time Out Beijing:
As a performer, success or failure feels more immediate. You can smell it in the room. As an actor, you know whether people are with you or against you, and there you are, putting yourself on the line. A writer has a bigger job to do because he needs to think on a larger scale about the play itself, about the ideas it is trying to communicate. With writing, the need is to sublimate the ego for the sake of the play. With performing, the ego is present and is vulnerable. Writing is the hardest thing, because you start with nothing—an idea of a moment you want to see, or a story you want to tell. In a way, the acting is the easy bit. But writing allows acting to exist, and the writing exists after the performance is over. Performing is an immediate thrill while writing makes for a longer lasting pleasure.
Visual art has played a role in Crouch’s creations since his first play, My Arm, the story of a man who decided at age 10 to place his arm above his head—and has kept it there for 30 years, making him a modern art hero. Crouch’s follow-up, 2005’s An Oak Tree, was inspired by a piece of conceptual art at the Tate Modern, and involves a new actor joining Crouch onstage each night—without having read the script beforehand. In 2007, Crouch wrote a very funny account for The Guardian about the show’s New York run, which featured a variety of well-known actors including Frances McDormand, Joan Allen, and Mike Myers. Among its fans was Kelly Ripa, whose husband Mark Consuelos appeared one night, and who wanted to make a film of the show:
I said that what distinguishes An Oak Tree is its unique theatricality: it can’t be transposed into any other medium. They assured me it was this theatricality they wanted to capture. They talked of filming it live again and again, and then editing so the nature of the play in performance is revealed…They mentioned film festivals and Kelly talked passionately about TV being the only art form most Americans ever see. She said she could get any actor we wanted—Cate Blanchett, or Harvey Keitel. I said that if we were to use big names, we would also have to use a couple of complete unknowns. They agreed, and we had another bottle of wine. The next day, full of enthusiasm, I wrote a long email to the writers in LA. I’m still excited about my film career, but I haven’t heard a word since.
Luckily, he’s had other reasons to travel to Los Angeles, including in 2011 for The Author, which eliminated the stage from the Douglas and had actors sitting amidst audience members. The audience also plays an important role in Adler & Gibb, Crouch explained in a 2014 interview about the show:
I try to make theatre that places the audience at the centre of its processes. This is not audience participation in the traditional sense—no one will be brought up on stage. As with most of my work, the audience can expect a piece that invites, to some extent, their role as co-authors. Space is left for the audience’s input—contradictions that require an audience to resolve. The play is complete but remains as open as I can make it. This openness is there to allow the audience entry. This sounds heavy duty, but it’s very playful in its engagement.
That playfulness is evident in the website Crouch created for the eponymous Adler and Gibb, an artist named Janet Adler and her lover Margaret Gibb. He told The Guardian what he’s aiming for with these characters:
I want you to believe that they might have existed, but they are real only in as much as they are the idea of something real contained in something else. This is the root of every actor's journey: a search for the ‘real’ in their character, even if their character has never seen the light of a real day. Much of my writing tries to unpack the conflicts in that state. Adler & Gibb balances the lives of my invented artists with the story of an actor who goes to unethical extremes to convince her audience that she is someone other than herself.