Justine – Act 1 of Captivated by They Played Productions
“It’s been a while since you had pizza and drinks with your friend Victoria, so you’re excited that she’s invited you to hang out tonight! She’s promised an intimate evening of just a few people at her place, including her friend since childhood, Ely, and his wife, Justine. Although you’ve never met either of them, Victoria promises they’re perfectly wonderful people. Then, of course, you get there. And you decide to look a little deeper…” (They Played Productions)
Captivated is a three-act immersive theater series, where the audience is part of the story. We converse with the characters, we guide the narrative and we might be able to affect the outcome. Throughout the night, guests were split up and reunited, each given breadcrumbs of the story, meant to be discussed and analyzed afterward. The following is my experience during Act One: Justine. To avoid SPOILERS, skip to the Overview.
Welcome to the Party (Spoilers)
Victoria, a therapist and our host for the evening, brought me and four other guests up to her penthouse apartment for a soiree we would not soon forget. We exchanged pleasantries and roamed around the apartment while drinks were poured. Self-help books were carefully arranged on the tables, and several of Victoria’s work papers documenting coping mechanisms for depression were left out on her desk next to a photo of Victoria and her now-deceased husband, Grant.
Victoria checked her phone and asked me to go downstairs to retrieve her friend Ely and his new(ish) wife, the titular Justine. I complied, chatting with a distracted Ely and a smiling Justine in the elevator back up to the penthouse. Ely and Justine had met when she was an actress in the film he was directing, and they had now been married for about a year. Back in the apartment, Ely fussed on his phone while Justine asked us about ourselves enthusiastically. However, the conversation took a serious turn when Justine told us about her accident. A drunk driver had crashed into Justine’s car one night, flipping it and causing massive damage to Justine’s body and brain. As a result, Justine couldn’t remember anything before the crash, and spent six months secluded at her home recovering.
Tip of the Iceberg
Ely interrupted the conversation with a phone call to his assistant, Henry, who was supposed to bring the pizza for the evening. At the mention of Henry’s name, Justine’s body language changed dramatically, back rigid and eyes wide. What was the story here? Justine asked Ely if Henry was coming to the apartment, to which Ely ensured Justine he wouldn’t stay for long, only to drop off the pizza and leave. Justine seemed to settle at Ely’s promise, but did not return to her former upbeat self.
Henry arrived with a small pizza that wasn’t big enough for the whole group. While Ely chastised him, Justine carefully kept a wary eye on Henry. Turning back to the guests, Ely declared that he would get another pizza, but wanted some of us to go with him, pointing to me and another guest. Ely, the other guest and I caught a Lyft to the pizza place. On the ride over, I sat next to Ely and tried to prod him for more information about Justine and Henry. Ely insisted that Justine was only uncomfortable with Henry because she had been stuck with him during the six months she was recovering. There’s nothing to see here, folks!
When we got back to the apartment, Ely stopped me and the other guest. He confided in us that, due to the accident, Justine couldn’t remember their wedding, other than the stories Ely and Henry had told her. Ely begged us to pretend we were at the wedding and tell Justine a story about it to help put her mind at ease. We hesitantly agreed to go along with his plan.
Coming to a Head
Back in the apartment, Henry lurked in the kitchen while Victoria made the rounds as host and Justine chatted with a guest. Victoria decided that we should play a word association game and brought us together in a circle on the couches. Words like “coffin,” “death,” and “silence” came up, obviously meant to create a reaction – but from whom? Henry stared across the circle at Justine as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat next to me. On the third go around the circle, Ely had had enough and abruptly declared the game over. He told Justine that I had been at their wedding, nodding at me to go along with his ruse. I proceeded to tell an absurd story about sea turtles and lobsters, hoping Justine would get the hint that it was all a lie. But Ely played along with my outlandish tale before pulling Henry into the kitchen for a chat.
Justine, now very uneasy, whispered to us that Henry had been eyeing her throughout the game and how she was tired of it. Mustering her courage, she stood up and yelled at Henry to leave. I missed what happened, but Justine suddenly got spooked and asked me to come into the bathroom with her to help her calm down, while outside Victoria dealt with the two men. In the bathroom, Justine pleaded with me not to think her crazy. She searched what remained of her memory and told me that she had seen Henry before he became Ely’s assistant. She pulled up her sleeve and insisted that she used to have a butterfly tattoo on her forearm, but now it was nowhere to be seen. Justine thanked me when I explained that Ely wanted us to lie about being at their wedding, that the story I told was false. I also told her that I believed her and that all the other guests had her back as well. She gave me a hug and was ready to face the party.
Coming out of the bathroom, Justine demanded from Ely where her tattoo had gone, and why he kept calling her “Justine” when it wasn’t her real name. WHAT?!?! Flustered, he ushered her onto the balcony for some privacy. Henry had been sequestered in Victoria’s room. A frazzled Victoria apologized for the disruption and asked us for our understanding in her having to cancel the rest of the party. So we gathered up our things and headed out, a sense of unease lingering in the air.
The Mystery Beneath (Overview)
In the elevator to the lobby and standing outside in the cold, the other guests and I couldn’t stop dissecting the evening. This is what I love best about immersive theater. Since the story is not explicitly presented to the audience, and information is spread out among us, it forces the group to recreate the narrative, offering each other insights and meaning. We compared our puzzle pieces and tried to figure out how exactly they fit together. There was an ominous story lying beneath the surface of a “happy” marriage, the cracks starting to show in the facade.
The set of Justine was a clearly lived-in apartment with very select props and details for us to take in. The story was cryptic and relied heavily on the actors, who were all natural and fantastic at improvisation, and the guests, who were encouraged to ask questions and guide the discussions. While there were definite scenes that had to occur for story purposes, the night felt like an actual party and not a strict narrative. With a sinister mystery yet to be solved, Act One of Captivated left us on a cliffhanger, one I am excited to see be explored more in Act Two.