We are asked to don blindfolds as we line up in small groups to be led into the performance space- hands on the shoulders of the audience member in front of you. Someone puts your hand on a chair, and we sit in our blindfolds listening to the rest of the audience get seated. Drinks are placed directly into hands. We are given another run down of what’s to come, and tips on dealing with the darkness. Though we have been thoroughly prepared on what to expect, when we are at last in the dark and asked to remove our blindfolds, there is an audible reaction. In a palpable darknes,s there is nothing for our eyes to adjust to, and we have only our ears to rely on.
Theatre in the Dark’s inaugural production Three Stories Up by Mackenzie Gordon is a noir mystery that follows Beatrice Dulaurier (Bethany Arrington) as she seeks to uncover the mystery of her husband’s death. Although the police say it is a suicide, Dulaurier knows otherwise. The closer she gets to discovering the truth, the more secrets she encounters about her late husband. She works with Gunnar Bjornsen (Gordon), a former informant for her husband who knows more than he’s initially telling about her husband’s past deeds. The mystery unravels with several twists as the drama unfolds.
Theatre in the Dark completely lives up to their name. They explain several times what we are getting into, but it still doesn’t quite prepare us for the feeling of being in such total darkness. There is immediate tension in the room before the play even begins, which only builds with the surprise of hearing the voice of an actor close enough to touch, but completely invisible. The actors move about the space in a way that helps us distinguish different characters and moving parts of the story. The tension created by the darkness lends itself to the mystery thriller and helps transport us to this noir world. While the intention of the show is to entertain and not scare us, the darkness can be overwhelming. Two audience members ended up leaving the show fairly early on. However, Theatre in the Dark had an easy and effective way to escort those who were uncomfortable out, without upsetting the flow of the show for the rest of the audience.
The foley and sound design (by director Corey Bradberry), along with vocal performances, are critical in a show performed in this format. The foley was particularly successful at enhancing the audience experience, in this reviewer’s opinion. Hearing physical objects-as opposed to recorded effects- move around us in the space helped create the scenes and boost the tension in the room. Arrington and Gordon played a variety of characters throughout the story, and each one had a very distinct way of talking. This not only helped us distinguish between the characters, but also made the characters feel fully flushed out and alive. At moments they were even talking to themselves, or carrying on two different conversations as two different characters. Each performer did so successfully, with ease.
In this writer’s opinion, there were moments when the vocal performances were not quite at their peak. The narrative load of a noir style drama depends a lot on vocal energy to drive the story forward. These weak spots may not have even registered in the light, yet when that is all we have to rely on, it sticks out a bit more. The story itself was perhaps a bit slow paced and not the most interesting mystery. However the pitch-black setting enhanced the story extraordinarily.
Theatre in the Dark is truly an experience. While radio plays are by no means new, the experience of being in a space, in the dark with voices and sounds moving all around you, takes it to the next level. The format is perfect for adventurous theatre-goers looking for a unique experience. This is not ideal for anyone afraid of the dark, or claustrophobic, as even this writer, who is neither, had several moments of feeling slightly overwhelmed by the environment.
Note: This will be added to the upcoming Picture This Post Best Play Picks for November, 2019 — Look for it on the Picture this Post YouTube channel
Director: Corey Bradberry
Writer: Mackenzie Gordon
Foley and Sound Design: Corey Bradberry
Producers: Corey Bradberry & Mackenzie Gordon
Associate Producers: Kelly Greene, James McDougald & Zachery Parkhurst
Production Manager: Kelly Greene
Front of House/Box Office: James McDougald
Social Media/Marketing Support: Marjorie Muller & Zachary Parkhurst
About the Author
Taryn Smith, Chicago Communities Associate Editor, graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago's BFA Performance program in 2011. After graduating, she co-founded Realize Theatre Group and served as Executive Director for the company. She has filled numerous roles while with RTG both on and off stage including making her playwriting debut with her play America, Inc . She has worked as a stage manage, designer, director, and actor. Outside of the theatre world, Taryn is a licensed massage therapist.
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