On Friday, my friend Alicia and I went to the theatre. But it wasn’t just your average play. Described as an “immersive theatre experience” going into the mind of Edgar Allan Poe, Deep Into Darkness starts with some instructions from cast members in the area of the theatre where you’d usually gather during intermission:
- audience members all wear white masks while in the theatre and must remain silent
- once inside, you can roam around the theatre, exploring any room you like (except for any door that says “Do Not Enter)
- you can touch anything you want – and are encouraged to riffle through drawers, read books, open containers – as long as you leave everything exactly where you found it
- crew members wear black masks and if they touch you on the shoulder and move you from where you are, follow their instructions (because basically you are going to be in the way of something an actor is about to do)
- a performer may extend their hand to invite you into a scene with them – you can accept the offer if you like, or cross your hands over your chest to signify that you would like to be left alone
And then you enter the theatre and your experience begins.
The logistics of the experience are pretty easy to explain (as above), but trying to explain the show is… difficult. There are a number of different rooms that all have a gothic sort of feel to them. One room is a bar that looks like a brawl has taken place. Another is a living room, another has a dining table. There’s a nursery, a bedroom, an outdoor shed, and various other creepy settings in rooms and hallways throughout the building. The performers move about these various spaces performing various scenes. You are free to follow a character around, or just go exploring to see what scene is happening in another place. It’s hard to really explain what the scenes were – some were fights, some were erotic, some were both, and some were quite mundane – like a woman giving a man a shave, or a women very, very slowly tearing a piece of paper. I honestly don’t know who all the characters were supposed to be and there’s no clear narrative. Also, none of the actors say a word – although they do groan, scream, and laugh maniacally. I read a few reviews to see if there was some obvious plot that I was missing, but there was not. The term “fever dream” was probably the best descriptor I’ve seen used to describe the show.
And while not having a plot, dialogue, or any real sense of who the characters were might make it sound pointless, it actually was a very cool experience. To me, I think the show was more about the feelings you got as an audience member experiencing a performance in a very different way. Some of my take homes from this were:
- No two audience members saw the same show. Because while you were in one scene, several other scenes were happening in other rooms that you weren’t seeing. There were characters I saw over and over again in different scenes, but then like an hour and a half into the show I’d see a new character and think “who is that?” But they would have been doing scenes all evening in different rooms that I didn’t happen to be in.
- There was an entire section of that I never saw and only found out about after the show when I talked to Alicia. “Did you go in the basement with all the tiny rooms?” she asked. I never even saw the stairway to the basement! It was kind of miffed that I missed out on seeing that part, but I had also been thinking about how you have to accept that there was no way you could have seen everything, because you can’t be in all the places at once!
- There was an intimacy between the actors and the audience in a way that you don’t usually get at the theatre. At one point, an actor sat down at a writing desk to write in a book and I stood right behind him and looked over his shoulder to see what he was writing. Later another man sat at the same desk, wrote on a piece of paper, tore it in half and handed half to me and half to another audience member.
- There was another scene in a very narrow hallway where there were audience members on both sides of the actors and everyone was crowded around to see – it was almost claustrophobic it was so tight.
- Other audience members also became part of the performance, whether because an actor engaged them in some way or because they just walked through a scene you were watching. At various point, audience members just sat down on a couch or chair that was right in a middle of a scene to watch it, so if you were watching from the side of the room, you would be watching them too.
- At one point an actor took an audience member by the hand and led her into a room with a crucifix on the door and closed the door. When the audience member’s friend tried to follow, a crew member blocked the door and wouldn’t let them in. They were in the room for like 5 minutes – I’m super curious about what happened in there!
All in all, I’d have to say that I quite enjoyed the show. But I’m like the worst theatre reviewer ever, because the show ends tomorrow so unless you happen to already have a ticket, you won’t get to see it. #WorstTheatreReviewerEver
Also, before the show, Alicia and I were chatting with a couple whose daughter was one of the performers. The man suggested that we should read about Poe’s life, as he was totally crazy (Poe, not the man we were chatting with). But he also said he thought Poe was writing in the 1960s and I was like “I think more like the 1860s”, so then I totally decided to look it up after the show. According to Wikipedia, Poe was born in 1809 and died when he was only 40 years old! Other interesting facts include:
- he was born Edgar Poe but was taken in by John and Frances Allan when he was two, as his father had abandoned the family the year after he was born and his mom died the next year
- he married his 13 year old cousin when he was 27; she died of tuberculous 11 years later
- the cause of Poe’s death is a mystery. Apparently he was found delirious, walking the streets of Baltimore. He was “not coherent enough to explain how he came to be in his dire condition and, oddly, was wearing clothes that were not his own. He is said to have repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, though it is unclear to whom he was referring.” (source). He was taken to the hospital, and died there a few days later. All the medical records of this, including his death certificate, were lost.