Kansas Collection – Chapter Ten: The Portal

In the Kansas Collection, the Speakeasy Society has taken L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz novels and brought them to life in an immersive experience driven by each guest’s decisions. Taking place in Kansas after the whirlwind adventures of Dorothy Gale, control of a dying Oz is at stake. In The Portal, the tenth chapter and conclusion to the epic Kansas Collection, sides have been chosen and the final battle for Oz – and the world – is about to begin.

Before taking that final journey through The Portal, find my reviews of Chapters One through Nine here.

Turning the Page

Reminiscent of Chapter 5: The Vow, The Portal is a bigger chapter than most in terms of scope, characters, guests, and narrative threads, and promises a magical evening for recruits both new and veteran. The Portal offers first-timers an extra half-hour crash-course in what they have missed in the story so far, before bringing in the veteran audience members to join the rest of the experience. Like The Vow, guests are welcomed into a church. But, this time, it’s not for a celebration, but the apocalypse. Phoebe Daring (controlled by evil Ozma) is going to open a portal through which her armed militia will come to Kansas from Oz, taking over our world in the name of Ozma. Phoebe, however, is unaware that opening a portal of that size and duration needs to be magically steadied by both her and her brother, Phil (in which good Ozma resides). Otherwise, it will collapse and destroy both our world and theirs. The remaining residents of Oz have chosen their sides – will good triumph, or will evil?

Are You a Good Witch…

One of the many strengths of the Kansas Collection is its actors. From the fabulous and scenery-chewing Genevieve Gearhart (Phoebe/Evil Ozma) to the calmly rational Matthew Bamberg-Johnson (Phil/Good Ozma), the cast is one of the best in the Los Angeles immersive scene. Michael Bates (Jack Pumpkinhead) is sweet and endearing (I wanted to give him a hug the entire time); Natalie Fryman’s Glinda is stoic and authoritative; Zan Headley shines during General Files’ inner turmoil; and James Cowan’s Tin Man is at once intimidating and vulnerable. John McCormick’s disgruntled Wizard is a fun contrast to John Henningsen’s lovable and bumbling Lyman, who is surely a fan favorite. The cast is rounded out by more top-tier talents, most of whom I sadly didn’t get the chance to interact with during my trip through The Portal.

The lighting and music design also add a lot to the experience, giving it an epic theatricality that this multi-year, ten-part story certainly deserves. From the moment guests walk up to the church and see the emerald lights shining through the stained-glass windows, it is apparent that Speakeasy Society has given everything they’ve got with regard to transporting their audience. Nowhere is this more apparent then with the lighting effects during the climax of the evening: the opening of the titular portal. The impact of the music is two-fold. It helps to mask the dialogue in other scenes around the church, and it heightens the tension of the narrative – especially the magical battle between the Daring twins. The production team outdid themselves when it came to immersing their guests in a Kansas filled with magical beings.

Genevieve Gearhart
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…Or a Bad Witch?

While the majority of the 90-minute concluding chapter is presented in front of the entire group of attendees, smaller groups break off for a few more intimate scenes. Generally, an experience having separate tracks lends itself to a fun dynamic; guests are able to compare notes to fill in the gaps of what they might have missed while on a different path. However, despite the length and scope of this chapter, its design and pacing left no opportunity to converse with guests who saw different scenes. When a character came to a dramatic end on someone else’s track, and all I heard about an absent character on mine was “they died,” it felt anticlimactic. This is, perhaps, the part of the experience I most struggled with. Each path resolves major conflicts that have been building throughout the series – and that’s fine – but there’s barely any mention made of how, and no opportunity for the audience to clue each other in without disrupting the action. As a result, those of us who’ve become heavily invested in the series may end up feeling cheated or robbed. Having varying scenes lends itself to repeat viewings to fill in the gaps, but since the majority of The Portal takes place with the entire group, a revisit might end up mostly repetitive. It might have been better if the separate tracks were a larger part of the show to make repeat visits more rewarding, or to give participants more of an idea of what others got to see and thus ensure everyone got the whole story.

On the other hand, The Portal‘s climax, once everyone is back together, is deeply satisfying. I’ve noticed that many immersive experiences have trouble with endings. They often feel rushed, the characters ushering the guests out quickly lest fill-in-the-blank catches them there. Thankfully, this is not the case with The Portal. Three years in the making, Kansas Collection comes to a close with a thought-out, if at times slightly overwrought, finale. There is definitely a moral within Speakeasy Society’s carefully crafted epic, but the uncovering of said moral sometimes drags in tempo, and is stated multiple times, by several characters. While the acting in the climax and denouement is consistently top-notch, the dialogue could have stood some trimming down.

It’s over… Now what do we do?

While The Portal spends a touch too long on the moral of the story, it’s not what matters in the end. The journey, not the destination, is what defines Kansas Collection. Speakeasy Society expertly wove a branching narrative through ten brilliant chapters, and in The Portal, they bring it all together. The touching moments could use more time to breathe instead of rushing to the finale and the dragging denouement, but over ten chapters, I have grown to love these characters – even more so after interacting with them in person. I will definitely miss attending Queen Ozma’s gatherings, and participating in clandestine plots to uncover the truth about Oz and the magic it holds. I will never forget my time in Kansas with beloved characters – Dorothy, Tin Man, Lion, Scarecrow, and more – and I’m anxious to see what Speakeasy Society has in store next. The Kansas Collection breathes new life into a timeless story of magic and whimsy, a tale about right and wrong and the grays in between, and what it means to fight for what you believe in and for those you love.

Check out the Speakeasy Society on their website or Facebook page, and keep an eye out for their next immersive experience.

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