I was invited to my first Wicked Lit before I really knew what immersive theater was. Wandering around a mausoleum and its grounds was inherently more exciting than looking at actors on a stage. That first visit, in the chilly air, walking through dark rows of tombs, was something of an eye-opener. Ever since, I’ve kept tabs on Wicked Lit but only returned one other time, until now. With a change in format from my previous visits, I wondered if it would keep the magic that first pulled me in.
Now in its tenth year, Wicked Lit is mixing up the format. In the past, they’ve had 3 short plays, tied together by a framework that allowed the audiences to come back together in a communal space. Now there are two plays, a shorter running time, cheaper tickets, smaller groups, and no story during the framework moments. I was skeptical about the changes but went in with an open mind. I took a friend who had never been before and so had no past frame of reference. This year’s two plays are “The Chimes: A Goblin Story” and “Teig O’Kane and the Corpse”. The former is based on a Charles Dickens novella and has been previously performed at one of Wicked Lit’s early incarnations. The latter is an adaptation of a story by Ernest Rhys, and making its world premiere at Wicked Lit.
The Chimes: A Goblin Story
What starts as a family squabble between a poor Irish man and his daughter who wants to marry young turns into something akin to Dickens’ own “A Christmas Carol”. Effectively using the chapel inside the mausoleum, as well as some fancy projected effects, the actors are uniformly good. Once the Goblins appear, it got a lot harder for me to hear their dialogue. So much of their performance is physical, as they cavort around the set and the main character, that their enunciation seems an afterthought. They also never sat still long enough for me to take in their creature makeup, although it was apparent that these Goblins were less “pointy ears and green skin” and more “mischievous spirits”.
Because of the comparisons to “A Christmas Carol,” the play doesn’t feel quite as fresh as I’d hoped. It also wasn’t scary. To be fair, I don’t believe the goal was to be frightening in the Halloween sense. It’s a morality tale, that deals with some dark themes, including death. At first I thought the message of the story was fine, if not predictable, until I read this review. No Proscenium points out the play’s parallels to today’s political climate and #MeToo movement. This results in “The Chimes” feeling less fun than previous shows.
Teig O’Kane and the Corpse
Next up is another story that starts ordinary and takes a turn for the otherwordly. A young man, grieving for the death of his mother, feels pressured by his girlfriend to move on and leaves her, despite having just learned she is pregnant. Immediately, the audience is appalled by his actions. On his way home, he is summoned by a spirit into the underworld, where he accidentally becomes physically stuck to a recent corpse. This corpse is still conscious, aware of his newly-ended life, and laments to Teig. Teig seemingly has no choice but to help him find a resting place so they both can literally move on from each other.
The big physical effect here is a good one. The audience enters the underworld along with Teig and the mausoleum fades away, replaced by fog-filled chambers, shrouds, tombs, and apparitions. It’s a real set, the first I can remember that doesn’t use the Mausolem’s natural eeriness and architecture. This story becomes a moral fable as well, as Teig learns from the dead what is important in life. I enjoyed this one more than “The Chimes.” It still isn’t scary in a traditional sense, but it does feel more seasonally spooky, and there are some genuinely comedic moments and good special effects. Surprisingly, it also hits on some themes that resonate with me personally, like remembering people after they are gone, so I felt more of a connection to the material.
Both stories have very similar themes of redemption and valuing the appropriate things in life. Both have Irish settings and dialogue, as do the hosts/guides that serve as a miniature version of a framework. There is no narrative structure, but before and between shows, two actors inform the audience about the history of Wicked Lit and Mountain View Mausoleum, with some playful banter back and forth. I don’t have a very good ear for accents, so I can’t comment on the quality. Only that they are fun to listen to, even if I missed a few lines.
Ultimately, Wicked Lit is a high quality production, but not as fun, nor as scary, as I was hoping for. I’m sure the choice to have both productions with similar morality themes was carefully considered, but it wasn’t what I was hoping for. They are also both smaller in scale than previous years. None of the building’s exterior, including the cemetery, was used. I believe this was partly at the request of the venue, and Wicked Lit adapted well, but it does take away some of the wow factor that impressed me my first time.
My friend, with nothing to compare the show to, enjoyed it better than I did. The rating on the side is a combination of hers and mine, and I think it’s a good sign that for newcomers, Wicked Lit is still a memorable and unique twist on the theater. The shorter running time is a net positive, as is the lower cost to attend. Perhaps with this model, more people can learn about immersive theater and seek out the bigger, scarier attractions if they so choose.
Wicked Lit runs on selected days through November 10th. There are 2 shows per night, at 7:30 and 9:00, and the performance runs approximately 85 minutes. Some dates are fully sold out, so book early. Prices vary but are about $40. More information, including ticket purchasing, is available at their website here.