"We ask that you stay at least five feet from the actors," Brian Mann told us as we waited to enter the back room of the Western Jubilee Recording Company on East Cucharras. "Ten feet if they have any type of firearm."
Not your ordinary audience instructions. But then this was no ordinary play. This was Reservoir Dogs, THEATREdART's latest experiment in immersive theater.
A concept that's only about 12 years old, immersive theater picks you up and drops you down right in the middle of the action. You don't sit in some plush upholstered seat. You stand up, wander around, explore. You don't watch from a safe, comfortable distance. You experience it up close, live it, breathe it.
THEATREdART first dove into the world of immersive theater last fall, with their version of Antonin Artaud's surrealist Jet of Blood. Last Friday they leaped in again, this time with a visceral, nearly word-for-word adaptation of the groundbreaking 1992 film directed by Quentin Tarantino (read our preview here).
The play is only an hour long, but it packs enough violence to satisfy any hard-core Tarantino fan. Much of the credit for that goes to Crystal Carter, who both wrote and directed the play. The one major change she made from the famously nonlinear film is that her version plays it straight, unspooling the scenes in the order they were supposed to have happened.
As the play begins, you — the audience member — stake your position in the warehouse-like back room of the building. It's there that Joe, a crime boss played with confident swagger by Kevin McGuire, gives final instructions for a brazen diamond heist to pulled off by his hand-picked team of professional criminals.
You follow them into a cheap diner, squeezing around the table as they debate the deeper meaning of Madonna's hit Like a Virgin over cigarettes and coffee.
Finally, you return to the warehouse. And from that point on, as the action unfolds, you'll swear you're watching the real-life aftermath of the heist as the team reassembles one by one and it becomes all too clear that things went horribly wrong.
Of course, with the audience positioned so close to the action, the actors are under a microscope and any flaws in their performances will be magnified. From where I was standing, some of the hand-to-hand combat looked kind of fake. The famous torture scene lost much of its impact because it was done with an empty gas can (couldn't they fill it with colored water or something?). [UPDATE: Carter has since informed me that the gas cap was stuck that night—AKA the magic of live theatre.] And I thought that Valiant Pico didn't show nearly enough agony as the mortally wounded Mr. Orange.
But Troy Sedlacek was truly chilling as Mr. Blonde, taking an almost childlike glee in torturing Josh Wolfaardt's helplessly bound cop. Greg Reilly brought a crazed kind of intensity to every heated argument in his portrayal of Mr. Pink. And veteran actor John Horn nicely captured Mr. White's descent into hopelessness and despair.
No, you don't have to watch the movie first to fully enjoy the play. Even if you have watched the movie, you may want to see the play more than once so that you can experience it from different angles, gain different perceptions.
Just make sure you stay five feet from the actors. You don't want to make Mr. Blonde mad.
Photos by Haley Hunsaker