Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta – An Immersive Tall Tale
There is a door in the back of the saloon that most people never notice. To the untrained eye it looks like it’s just part of the wall, which is just as well. What lies beyond isn’t meant for just anyone. A young man in a dusty hat keeps watch, waiting until the other patrons have their attention focused elsewhere, then quickly beckons us through. We enter a dark hallway which becomes a crevice between two rock faces. With his lantern overhead, the man leads us through the darkness to an alcove where we sit upon crates which appear to have once encircled a campfire. Setting his lantern down, the man introduces himself as Eugene Plummer. Cheerfully he recounts the story of his friendship with an outlaw, Vasquez, after whom these mountains were named. We can still hear faint singing coming from the saloon, but our attention is fully with young Plummer as he pulls us headfirst into his life story with the help of some puppets and flickering lights upon the cave’s walls.
It is time, my friends.
Time for dance, and time for drink
Time to fright, and time to think
Time to spend with friends and foes
Time to laugh away our woes.
Past shows by Rogue Artists Ensemble range from Japanese ghost stories (Kaiden Project: Walls Grow Thin) to reinventing the tale of Pinocchio (Wood Boy Dog Fish). In Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta, they partner with The City West Hollywood Arts Division to bring to life a history that is much closer to home. Pulling from The Life and Laughter of an Old Californian, the whimsical book by original West Hollywood resident Señor Eugene Plummer, Rogue Artists has created a fully immersive experience in which audience members can choose which characters to follow. Each character, pulled from Plummer’s life, takes guests through the historical tall tales that make up his memory. From grandiose vignettes such as creating the first whoopie cushion to riding a land-shark (a man with a shark’s head in this case), Plummer’s magical stories blossom with Rogue Artists’ hyper-real puppetry, masks, mixed-media projections and enthusiastic creativity.
Like with Kaiden Project and Wood Boy Dog Fish, Señor Plummer has its share of darkness tucked away behind the merriment. One character in particular avoids joyous stories to shine a light on the nightmares Plummer would prefer to keep to himself. Tales of war, murder and injustice weave their way through the darkened halls, lit only by the flashlights we are given. Plummer confesses “I do not want to talk about this,” as we walk deeper, reopening old wounds that had long since been, if not exactly healed, at least scarred over. I found this section of the production a little hard to follow without the backstory that other paths provide; perhaps if I saw the nightmares later in the night, I would have understood better. But the painful stories serve as a nice contrast to the breathtaking and colorful world of pirates and extensive court battles.
The large cast (around 20 performers) provides plenty of guidance for guests who might be overwhelmed or confused by the immersive structure of the production. The site-specific experience offers a wide range of options and memories to explore, but the lack of a linear structure can make it daunting to choose between so many paths. Thankfully the lively actors and musicians are there to help, occasionally suggesting which characters guests should follow and ensuring that everyone is accounted for and having a grand time. The bartender in the saloon offers drinks for purchase, the land-shark conducts a census, and various lawyers and land-owners ask guests to dance in the titular final fiesta. The cast excels in cultivating audience engagement and interactivity – each character overflows with life.
The production value and design is likewise solid. Señor Plummer not only succeeds in enchanting the audience through characters and narratives, but also impresses in the set design, costumes and structure of the experience. From the saloon to Plummer’s ranch to the depths of his subconscious, Rogue Artists uses their set design and puppetry skills to full advantage. The result is a rich, magical, dream-like world. Plummer’s mother stands on an over-sized bed, cheering her son on as he horse-races for land; the life-sized puppet of 90-year-old Plummer leaps with glee and laughs heartily with the audience; a hand-held bird puppet embodies the spirits of the Chumash as it tells of the creation of its people. In the Vasquez cave, a weathered scroll provides the back-drop for a shadow puppet vignette, and the center of the park is brightly decorated for the festivities. Guests are truly immersed in the vivid world of Plummer’s living-and-breathing memories.
The ebb and flow of the various paths enable guests to split off for small stories and come back together for bigger, more climactic moments in Plummer’s life. However, as is the nature of most immersive productions, guests will be unable to see all of the stories in one performance. Even then, the freedom and breadth of options given to the audience might be overwhelming to people new to immersive entertainment. But helpful actors will come to the rescue if a guest is at a loss for where to go, and there is always something to see. I wish the audience was brought together more often for the exhilarating parts of the story – such as the wild west duels or Plummer riding a shark – as I didn’t get to witness those moments during my time in Plummer’s past.
No goodbyes. Only hasta la vista.
Señor Plummer offers guests a kind of choose-your-own-adventure experience that brims with a fantastical version of history. With clever and intricate period costumes, uplifting musical interludes and beautiful sets, Señor Plummer is a magical trip that celebrates an old man’s memories – ones that, no matter how exaggerated, are grounded in community and family. An enchanting experience, Señor Plummer’s Final Fiesta is yet another beautiful success from Rogue Artists Ensemble.
For more information on Rogue Artists Ensemble, check out their website or Facebook page, and buy tickets to a whimsical trip through Los Angeles history here. Photos courtesy of Chelsea Sutton except where noted.