Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Sonder: Transformations

Arts Hub
Review by Wally Gordon

Also see Rob's review of God of Carnage

Ericka Olvera in "Robot Friend"
Photo by Jeff Andersen
At the ripe age of 78, being jaded just comes natural; I start to feel that I've seen it all, done everything. But this week I discovered something new on the Albuquerque stage, and I'm glad I did. As with anything path breaking, there are some hiccups along the way, but the chance to participate in a radical experiment is unmissable.

The event is a micro-theater festival called Sonder: Transformations. (With a bit of research I found two definitions of sonder: "the realization that everyone has a story" and "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.") Almost everything about this performance is exceptional. To begin with, the venue is unique. It is a large Nob Hill residence across a narrow street from a vest pocket park adorned with flowering trees whose large white blossoms cast an almost ethereal glow upon the whole scene. A renowned half-century-old house (sometimes called the Seventies Smash House) has also been specially adorned for the event, which transpires in a number of otherwise domestic rooms: an upstairs bedroom, a bathroom, a kitchen, a living room, a hallway, and a basement. When the house is not a theater, its rooms are rented out to visitors via Airbnb. It is owned by Victoria VanDame, who also has an Albuquerque gallery and is listed as a sponsor of the show.

The performance consists of five brief skits, all locally written and performed, and produced by Arts Hub. The stories are partly based on the actors' own very personal lives. The effect of the audience's proximity and interaction is to create an atmosphere of intimacy. Not only is the fourth wall demolished, but all walls, internal and external, seem to disappear.

What is most unusual is the interaction between cast and audience. Small groups from the audience traipse between the five venues in the house. At each venue, they sit or stand next to one or two actors. At several venues the actors tell their own stories.

In the kitchen, in a scene called "Robot Friend" (written and performed by Ericka Olvera as the robot), the tables are turned and members of the audience talk with the "robot" about themselves. In what is the most effective of the five skits, the conversation between audience and robot is gradually transformed into a friendship.

In a scene in a bedroom ("Dear Diary," written and performed by Magdeline Gallegos), a woman sits on a bed and reads from her 20-year-old diary. The diary reflects her difficult and at times painful transformation from child to woman.

In an upstairs hallway ("Loose Change," written and performed by Cortney Baca and Christina Cavaleri), two women dress and undress as they discuss the transformation of a relationship.

In a bathroom ("Worthy," written and performed by Amanda Machon), a woman in a translucent shroud dances in a red Jacuzzi. Then she wordlessly describes her interior transformation from despair to self-awareness by holding up signs.

In a room that is supposed to be a psychology class ("Field Notes on an Assassin," written and performed by Hakim Bellamy), the audience is instructed to don white lab coats while listening to a lecture by a distinguished-looking black psychologist. He then introduces large screen interviews with J. Edgar Hoover and James Earl Ray in which the assassin of Martin Luther King Jr. looks a lot less like a villain than the FBI director.

Each of the five events is entirely different, and each contains its own surprises and twists. What unifies them is the theme of transformations, which applies as much to the audience as to the cast.

Jeff Andersen, who along with Josh Bien produced the show, has the difficult task of coordinating actors simultaneously performing in five locations. But an even more complex task is shuttling multiple small groups from the audience between venues on three levels. Substantial amounts of waiting between scenes in the house's living room can be a bit burdensome and slows down the pace of the action.

Arts Hub has previously produced a micro-theater festival, works with the district attorney's office to use art as a crime reduction tool, and collaborates with Any Given Child and Albuquerque Public Schools to bring arts education to students.

According to an Arts Hub web posting, "Micro-theater is a form of performance popularized in Europe, most prominently by "Microteatro" in Spain. The style has been gaining popularity in cities across the U.S."

Sonder: Transformations, April 13, 2019, at 723 Parkland Circle SE in Albuquerque's Nob Hill neighborhood. Performances take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information, visit