Review: SAFEHOUSE '82 Immerses Audiences in an Interactive Evidence-Gathering Spy Mission
Spy Brunch LLC immersive theatre playwrights extraordinaire Nick Rheinwald-Jones and Katelyn Schiller first impressed me during 2018's Safehouse '77, a site-specific interactive show with a mixture of historical and pop-cultural influences in the exciting world of spy movies and the Equal Rights Amendment. And they have done it again with this year's SAFEHOUSE '82, the sequel to last year's production which takes place in the same house in the Los Feliz district with many of the same actors portraying the same characters with an entirely new storyline and objective.
Taking place exactly five years after the events of last year's production, the site-specific thriller once again immerses audiences in the culture and atmosphere of its particular era, right down to the 1982 copies of Playboy Magazine sitting on the living room table. This time, however, guests are asked to play a much more significant role in the story, with our choices directly impacting: the show's outcome as well as the fates of key characters. Thurs, vastly different endings are possible depending upon how the audience works together to complete the evening's mission.
The plot of SAFEHOUSE '82 draws heavily on true events from the CIA's history with details of espionage tactics and technology incorporated into the interactive elements of the show. The result is all audience members participate as they choose, making each of us feel as if we are really part of a high-tension spy film taking place during the Arms Race between Russia and the United States, with a murder that has taken place in Africa needing to be solved.
The evening begins a few blocks from the Safehouse, where you are met by Margery (Lauren Hayes), a rather high-strung, fast-talking woman who has been sent by Sharon (Katie Rediger) to safely escort us to her location to fulfill our new mission. After arriving on the porch, audience members are advised about the rules of the evening, including "The house is bugged! They are listening. YOU MUST PLAY ALONG. Do Not Discuss Sensitive Information." In other words, rely on each other, work together, listen to instructions, don't open or move anything unless asked to do so, and do your best to help Sharon obtain the evidence she needs to solve a crime.
Soon Sharon emerges to welcome us into her realm of espionage and discovery, and the fun begins. Without giving too much away, I can tell you Sharon is attempting to prove who murdered her friend and fellow spy Nancy Packer (Kelley Pierre), whom we only see in Beta video clips as she gives clues about the person she is sure is "out to get her." And Sharon is solving the mystery by gathering hidden clues and posting them on an evidence board by the kitchen table, asking us to listen to what we hear, do what we are asked to do, and bring whatever we find to her. Then the search begins.
Be prepared to learn interesting facts about how the Cold War played out in Angola, with the type of intrigue only hinted at during the time on display as Sharon describes the mission via a short video projected on a wall in the backyard shed. This particular instance was one of the few where all audience members were rounded up to be sure we all learned "the truth" behind our evidence-gathering mission.
What made this experience so different from Safehouse '77 is that rather than being given coded buttons to wear which alerted cast members which of us to pull into their part of the story,SAFEHOUSE '82 allows guests a higher level of agency, letting us decide where to go and who to follow, creating a "sandbox" environment in which we were often free to move between different rooms, characters, and experiences. Or perhaps you would choose to sit back, play a game or just nibble on snacks and drinks provided. But trust me, that won't last for long as you WILL be pulled in to participate when you least expect it. Just be prepared to go with the flow!
I have to admit, there was no way to keep track of what all characters were doing and their part in the final outcome, but I did get to participate in many episodes involving figuring out code, contacting others via phone or CB radio, and examining the house and its contents for clues, all then delivered to Sharon who decided if it could be of any help to her. And if it did, your accomplishment was rewarding by her excitement of being able to add the clue to the evidence board, letting everyone within earshot know about it. I was certainly pleased when the case was solved, yet disappointed the experience has come to its end.
Once again, Spy Brunch LLC has created one of the most thoroughly entertaining of all the immersive theater productions I have ever seen. I do hope SAFEHOUSE '82 is not the end, but merely the next stepping stone in Spy Brunch LLC's immersive series experience.
Those playing their part included returning Safehouse '77 cast members Katie Rediger as the often mysterious ringleader Sharon, tantalizing Katelyn Schiller as Sonya who always seems to have something up her sleeve, Shoshanna Green as Carlotta whose expertise with evidence assists Sharon in gathering us to seek out the missing pieces of the puzzle, Ashley Jones as the totally laid back computer expert Connie, and Nick Rheinwald-Jones as Max who arrives with very important piece of time-period technology in his briefcase, along with new addition Lauren Hayes as Margery who often remained seated at her computer to watch the play unfold, then ran into scenes to forward the action with her insightful observations. Others playing various roles include Paul Bugallo, Jim Hanna, Roby Johnson and Haley Delone, with voice overs by Jasmine Leung (Stage Manager) and Niyia Mack (Line Producer).
SAFEHOUSE '82 is written by Nick Rheinwald-Jones & Katelyn Schiller, co-creators of this year's immersive hit The Pod, which was nominated as Best Immersive Production at the Hollywood Fringe Festival and won the Golden Key Award for Immersive Theater, presented by The Speakeasy Society. Lyndsie Scoggin returns as Creative Producer, with Nick Rheinwald-Jones directing the Spy Brunch LLC production.
Tickets to SAFEHOUSE '82 are $125 and include light snacks and up to three alcoholic beverages. There are only 16 performances with 13 audience members in each one. More show information can be found at https://www.safehouse82.com/ Do hurry as only a few tickets remain at http://spybrunch.ticketleap.com/safehouse-82
Photo credit: Andrew Wofford and Katelyn Schiller