BWW Review: CAPTIVATED: YOU Immersive but Lackluster Experience Disappoints its Audience
I have to congratulate They Played Productions for their great marketing and promotion of their 6th immersive theater experience, CAPTIVATED: YOU, which they claim is specifically designed with over 45 DIFFERENT ENDINGS since the audience's actions will determine which happens at any given performance. And though I had not seen any of the previous, year-long series, I was assured I would be able to follow the story. That part is true, mostly thanks to the brilliant and spellbinding on site introduction to the evening performed by Katie Conrad as Emma G. Nation, who thanked us for being willing to assist her in finding her missing friend Mike Stone (Glenn David), and then escorted us around the corner to The Warehouse where CAPTIVATED: YOU took place.
Once inside, we met several characters who could have been the person holding Mike hostage or perhaps had even killed him. Of course, there was no way for us to know. Before the 8-member audience was divided into 4 groups and split up to follow one of them into another area, we met Victoria Polidori, portrayed by Stepy Kamei as the scientist behind the Frankenstein-like experiment to animate dead bodies, championed by Erik Blair as the supposedly insane doctor Ely Laverza along with his psychotic lab assistant Henry Clerval (Josh Ruiz) who would prefer to kill everyone in the room rather than try to explain anything to us. Ruiz's menacing state definitely let us know not to trust this man.
While being offered some very simple snacks and water as we sat being introduced to our hosts for the evening, we were instructed not to touch anything in the main room as the scientific "instruments" were delicate. And, of course, there was the necessary electrical static lightning bolt flaring up to add in a bit of the Frankenstein lab environment, which was not really evident to any other extent. And then there was Sarah Morris as the latest of many women named Justine Cage, seated in a wheelchair having been created by Ely thanks to the assistance of Victoria, who had her own motive in place. Rather than reveal what that is, I will tell you that Austin Schumacher as Grant is a big part of it.
Soon four of the actors were asked to select two audience members to follow them, hoping to gain some insight into what was really going on and how we were going to find Mike. So of course, being with just one of the four main characters only gave each audience member a limited understanding of what was going on, other than it was easy to hear any yelling of screaming coming from other places in The Warehouse. It is unfortunate that each audience member was not given the opportunity to follow the actors into each of the other rooms, thus giving us a more well-rounded experience of all the action taking place.
But it was not until Emma re-appeared and shuttled the 8 of us into a corner, asking us to reveal what had taken place in the other rooms, what decisions had been made, which is when the real plot was revealed and we jelled as a group to work together to make sure Mike was rescued. The whole experience then ended very abruptly, with the audience shuttled out of The Warehouse before any real ending to the story was achieved. All 8 of us looked at each other in disbelief and disappointment, not believing the show was really over as we waited for one of the actors to come out and take us back in to wrap up the story. It never happened, so we all just shrugged our shoulders and walked away wondering what all the fuss had been about in the first place.
So for fans of real immersive, horror-based theater which usually include bits of fright, special effects, multi-dimensional characters, great costumes, and dark places from which you have to escape, this is not the show for you. It's simple structure and lackluster presentation will leave you as disappointed as I was when the experience ended.
CAPTIVATED: YOU performances run between 60-75 minutes, billed as being for mature audiences over 18, as an exploration of need, love, obsession and the true depths someone will go to achieve their goals. It is a story of monsters, real and imagined, and what it really means to be a creature. That is a pretty bold statement on their part, given the performance I saw. I do hope that future They Played Productions, launched in 2017 by entertainment veterans Erik Blair and Thea Rivera, are able to better deliver on their great marketing and promotional promises.
Tickets and information at https://theyplayedproductions.ticketleap.com/captivated-you/
Photos courtesy of They Played Productions