We had an opportunity to see the very unique play at the beautiful David Geffen Playhouse (presumably named for someone, likely David Geffen), in Westwood, California. We would like to tell you more about the intricate stories and spectacular effects but Mr. Robbins swore the entire audience to secrecy. As a consequence, this will be a very vague, but enthusiastic review.
We deliberately avoided learning about the show. We wanted to be surprised. We trusted Teller and Mr. Robbins to entertain and likely scare us but had no real understanding of what was planned. And while we did not search out summaries or plot lines before attending, we knew to expect the unexpected thanks to a warning included on our ticket invoice:
The stories and events of this interactive production contains some disturbing images, strobe effect, theatrical haze, interactivity, brief moments of nudity and a great deal of fun. Audiences are surrounded by sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead. Material may be inappropriate for the faint of heart – or those under 18.
Disturbing images, check. Theatrical haze, interactivity and some nudity, check to the third power. Surrounded by “sights, sounds and touches of the returning dead,” yep and then some.
We did not, however, notice any “strobe effects.” It could be there was a strobe effect but our eyes were so tightly shut that we did not notice.
This is a scary experience, expertly presented.
Mr. Robbins has the voice, stature and disarming smile to make the event truly terrifying. He works the audience well and leaves it feeling vulnerable. Unlike a very scary movie or traditional play, there is no sense of safety here. He establishes very quickly that anything could happen and, more disturbingly, could happen to any individual audience member.
The dark is a scary place and total darkness is totally scary – especially with Mr. Robbins’ sonorous instruction and macabre soliloquy. As he points out, his stories are true and the people he discusses actually lived and moved among us. When the lights go out, we are essentially on our own. We are forced to trust someone who has already established he is not trustworthy.
Technically, the play is masterfully done. The set is beautiful, the costuming is perfect, the lighting (when on) is just right. We have no idea how the effects are accomplished and that is fine by us. We love being fooled and amazed. We’re not so crazy about being scared though.
We sat in front of a couple who were having some problems in their relationship. The experience could have brought them closer but it didn’t.
She: I hate this kind of thing.
He: Since when, it’s just like a movie.
She: This is not like a movie. You lied.
He: I didn’t know what was going to happen.
She: B*** s***!
That conversation was just after the first blackout of the evening. Things did not get better for the two. We wanted to help but we also wanted them to stop talking. They did stop talking – about halfway through the show – and she stormed out as soon as the play was complete. We are guessing this spat was probably a symptom of other issues with which they were struggling.
Did we enjoy the show? We think so.
We walked to the nearest well-lit store after congratulating Mr. Robbins in the lobby. As we loitered in the aisles of Target, our concern about the company’s recent privacy breach was greatly diminished. We were just happy to be in a familiar and safer environment.
Play Dead is safe but in the darkened theater, it does not always feel that way. That is quite a trick and well-worth the price of admission.
Inside Magic Review: Five Out of Five Stars!