Los Angeles Theater Review: WICKED LIT 2015 (Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery)

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by Tony Frankel on October 25, 2015

in Theater-Los Angeles

SHORT ON WICKED; SHORTER ON LIT

While Knott’s Scary Farm has been doing it for decades with its haunted mazes, interactive theater is gaining ground nationwide as a way to address dwindling and/or disinterested theatergoers. Live performances are battling with the internet’s popularity: The performing arts need audiences, and audiences are intrigued by the notion of interacting with the production. Could this type of theater, such as Chalk Rep’s Mommune and Moving Arts’ Car Plays, one day electrify L.A.’s perpetually troubled theater scene? The jury is still out.

Sachi-K-in-The-Grove-of-Rashomon.-Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama

Wicked Lit, now playing through Nov. 14, offers three short plays–adapted from literature–that are staged at a mausoleum. It is a most uneven affair, yet I can completely understand its popularity.

Sachi-K-and-Alpha-Takahashi-in-The-Grove-of-Rashomon.-Photo-by-Daniel-Kitayama

There is one über-playlet that is used as a “frame” for the other plays–it has a storyline based on two Edgar Allan Poe short stories, but “The System” feels like a device to a) proffer nuts-and-bolts info about getting around the mausoleum at night and b) give patrons something to distract them during breaks. Instead of creating a fourth play for these purposes, we endure silly, largely improvised dialogue and actors who ask questions that very few people I saw felt like answering (“What is that strange device you use there?” referring to iPhones). The three main one-acts are staged in a spooky graveyard, a gorgeous mausoleum, and a side chamber and outdoor garden.

Alpha-Takahashi-and-Mask-in-The-Grove-of-Rashomon.-Photo-by-Daniel-KitayamaI firmly believe that Wicked Lit has become a hit because audience members move through beautiful darkened halls lined with the entombed in the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, creepily lit by KC Wilkerson, with awesome projections by Adam Flemming. The logistics are jaw-dropping (22 actors, 7 stage managers and more) and the effects are phenomenal with plenty of sound, smoke, shadows, and sleight-of-hand. But the plays seem like they are written to be timed with other scenes more than what is best to tell the story (which means you have a lot of “Good God!”s, inner monologues, and some dialogue right out of Dungeons and Dragons). I’m not saying there aren’t some funny bits and spooky moments, but with the poor script construction and inconsistent acting, “The Grove of Rashomon” (based on Ryünosuke Akutagawa’s “In a Grove”), “The Fall of the House of Usher” (Poe), and “The Ebony Frame” (Edith Nesbit) are never particularly scary or engaging. I was reminded of some Night Gallery episodes which were forced to stretch out a one-minute storyline (by the way, this evening runs over three hours, which seems even longer due to the draggy intermissions).

Alan-Abelew-and-Kevin-Dulude-2nd-Floor.-Photo-by-John-Thvedt-1

As with so many immersive productions I’ve seen, the event’s interesting gimmickry or technological wonders are trumped by mediocre playwriting and mixed acting. As such, these “events” are rarely thought-provoking and fail to move or touch me emotionally—and I’ve seen dozens and dozens, partly because I want so badly for them to succeed. As with conventional theater, the most successful “events” are those with a strong script and potent performances, such as Off-Broadway’s Here Lies Love and Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. Even We Players’ Macbeth, presented in San Francisco’s Fort Point underneath the Golden Gate Bridge, had some pretty awful acting, and sacrificed storytelling for staging, but it had (speaking of literature) great dialogue, and it was a thrilling environmental tour-de-force that never let up.

Alan-Abelew-and-Kevin-Dulude-Ext.-Photo-by-John-Thvedt

So with a lot of average entertainment out there, it makes sense that viewers are willing to give up great theater for atmosphere, but had these Wicked Lit pieces been on a proscenium stage with no effects, my true fear is that it would have been dreadful.

Deborah-Dominguez-in-The-Ebony-Frame.-Photo-by-John-Thvedt

photos by Daniel Kitayama and John Thvedt

Wicked Lit 2015
“The Grove of Rashomon” “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The Ebony Frame”
Unbound Productions
Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery
2300 N. Marengo Ave. in Altadena
Thurs-Sun (and some Wed) at 7:30
ends on November 14, 2015
for tickets, call 323.332.2065 or visit Wicked Lit

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