In what’s essentially a broom closet, barely wide enough to outstretch one’s arms fully, a secret meeting is occurring, and only two audience members are present on either end of the tiny room, having been asked to close the door behind them. A gypsy kneeling on the floor tells a young woman that she has power, and must do what she has to do with what she’s about to give her. Confused, but somehow comforted, the woman puts out her hands. Knowingly, the gypsy hands her an object wrapped in cloth, which the woman unravels to find a sacrificial knife. She then rushes out of the room, but the gypsy tells the audience members to stay. She opens a secret cabinet filled with neon potions and philtres, and takes out a bundle of sage to cleanse everyone. After this process completes, she gazes with urgency at both viewers, and says, “It is time.”
Historical Thrills Brought By Birch House
The North Mansion in Berger Park has been transformed into the centuries-old home of the characters for Birch House’s Cursed: An American Tragedy. As the viewers are ushered into the home, they are greeted by William, the only resident still taking care of the premises, and with a deep tinge of regret in his every move. He’s brought us all here to explore the house, and to see the entire lineage that walked these spaces throughout the years. Along the way, we may discover the tragedy that William is referring to. What follows is a plot with multiple storylines to follow, spanning five generations and the titular curse that affected them all. For those who enjoy dramatic multi-plot fare such as American Horror Story, Pulp Fiction, Game of Thrones, the West Wing, the attention to detail given by playwrights Lauren N. Fields and Janie Killips will be exciting to dive into.
Curating Your Experience
The show is immersive in most senses, as viewers can walk around the mansion and follow actors and scenes whenever they want: truly flies on the wall. If a couple embraces and starts heading up the stairs, you can follow them to the bedroom, and watch them intimately dance by some cradles before they fall asleep together. Following some yelling you heard coming from the foyer, you may stumble into an argument in action, culminating in a brother choking his sister in a post-traumatic stress induced rage. There are a few larger moments where the audience is forced to congregate together (epic fights, choreographed memory pieces, etc.) but for the most part, the story is yours to discover, or inevitably miss. Some may enjoy this newfound freedom and control over the narrative, but those who prefer their theatre laid out clearly may not. There were moments where this theatre-goer desired a deeper commitment to the immersive genre by the production, in both story and design, but, by this writer’s lights, this definitely falls into the category of majoring the minors.
In a production such as this, with so many moving parts cleverly hidden, and audience members not bound to seats at a reasonable distance, much of the onus lies on the ensemble to create a sense of realism and portray honest characters. This effort is shown most vividly in the private moments, such as the gypsy in the closet from the introduction. Find these encounters, and don’t resist when a cast member beckons you aside. In one particular instance, a veteran asked this viewer if he had ever fired a gun, and if he liked it. Upon hearing his positive response, the man warned of the danger of having such a simple but life-altering tool, and pondered if having such unlimited choice was all-powerful, or corrupting.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Lauren N. Fields
Matthew T. Messina
6205 North Sheridan Road
Chicago, IL 60660
November 1‐17, 2018