Los Angeles Theater Review: DELUSION: HIS CRIMSON QUEEN (An Interactive Play)

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by Tony Frankel on October 18, 2016

in Theater-Los Angeles

DEFICIENT DRAMA DILUTES DELUSION

In 2011, writer/director Jon Braver created Delusion, a new kind of haunted house. In the ensuing years (except last year, 2015, which was dark), with a different tale presented annually, Braver has brought Los Angeles a much-celebrated high-end Halloween attraction that is so popular that it now sells out before opening night. The key to Delusion’s reputation is an updating to the usual “jump-out-of-the-corner” type scares in various mazes and mansions (which now sprout up like tumbleweeds every year, thanks to the original Knotts’ Scary Farm).

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Braver adds narrative and high production costs to the usual bag of tricks, and in order to give his projects a cinematic point of view, he enlists a legion of tireless actors and stunt-riggers, staging the productions at spooky mansions or even a decrepit nunnery. In addition, guests actually become part of the story, improvising with the actors (when invited to do so) throughout the show (in the theater world, it’s called “immersive staging”).

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This year’s Delusion is called His Crimson Queen, and there will be mixed reports. The technical aspects are top-notch as always, but the storytelling is weak and can be confusing. First-timers will no doubt be awestruck at the enormity of the event and the interaction with various vampires, but horror aficionados may find it lacking in the scary department and feel let down that it’s difficult to get emotionally involved in the story. The acting is also mixed: Some of the actors are sweating and crying and giving their all for your benefit; others are forced, screaming and unintelligible (worse yet was one actor tossing in anachronisms such as “totally awesome” and another who was having a smoke break just outside of the entrance gate).

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Still, there are some astounding, unsettling, graphic, and ghoulish set pieces that will have you feel as though you’re inside a movie. While this is not the Delusions of past years, it’s definitely worth it for newbies who find this sort of thing normally too terrifying to try.

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The time is the 1930s and the place is a mansion in upstate New York (the actual house is in the Adams District of L.A.). We enter the home in small groups, but be prepared to enter later than your timed entrance; if you want, there’s a cool bar below ground with delicious cocktails while you wait. Once in the villa, we are informed through an usher and a voiceover that we are the children of Berke and Selene Sullivan, who have been absent for years. We received a letter from daddy that mom, thought to be dead all these years, is alive and held captive in a manor, which—we will discover immediately—is stocked with bloodsucking creatures who need Selene for their own (although it’s not good when the over-expository introduction confuses as much as informs). As we wander around, always led by the actors, our group will disinter clues, discover that we have secret powers (the device of holding our hands up to keep monsters at bay felt silly once overused), and help to reveal the truth about mother.

in Los Angeles, on Saturday, October 1, 2016. (Photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Even a wonky narrative with overly long monologues and too much exposition is of no consequence to the overall effectiveness of the space. While I simply wasn’t sufficiently spooked this year, everything looked great. The manse itself provides an outstanding venue and is by its own design (squeaky staircases, narrow hallways, low ceilings, and differently shaped spaces) the perfect setting.

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Credit for the wonderful atmosphere must be given to production designer Kevin Williams, art director Hannah Welter, sound designer Victor Mathieu (with Braver), and lighting designer Ian Momii. Siddartha Barnhoorn’s creepy compositions  and Cat Elrod’s inventive costume, hair and make-up are glorious. The attention to detail is astounding, and you can expect some hip effects.

As for the story: I liked the ending, but exposition should exist in direct ratio to its dramatic value; the lack of drama here was the scariest thing all night.

christine-joelle
photos by Nick Agro

Delusion: His Crimson Queen
2200 S Harvard Blvd in Los Angeles
ends on November 13, 2016
valet parking available at 22nd and Le Salle for $10 cash
initial run sold out
for tickets to possible extension, visit Delusion

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