BWW Review: Plunge into Darkness in PETE's Gripping Fully Immersive Performance ALL WELL
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be on an icebound ship as part of a doomed Arctic expedition, now's your chance to cross that experience off of your bucket list. Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble's (PETE) latest work will take you into the hull of a ship on the Franklin expedition, an 1845 Arctic exploration in which the ships HMS Erebus and HMS Terror became trapped in the ice. Just in case you were holding your breath for a happy ending, you can stop now -- the entire expedition was lost.
Sound terrifying? It is. And PETE's ALL WELL plunges you right into the middle of that terror.
ALL WELL is not a play, or really a performance at all. It is an experience, and one you won't soon forget. Here's how it goes: You enter the Imago Theatre and are given a personal listening device. While the rest of the audience files in, you sip coffee and listen to a recording about what it feels like to be completely lost on the ice. Then it's your turn. Led by docents (who communicate almost entirely through significant looks), you descend into the hull of the ship, aka the basement of the Imago Theatre. There, you take up residence in your own personal hammock, and the lights go out. The main part of the experience is a sound installation that takes you on a journey into lostness, loneliness, and madness as the ship becomes completely icebound.
I realize this might not sound like a very fun way to spend an evening, but it is actually really cool. PETE has done an incredible job of capturing what it must feel like to be lost at sea -- there is even a smellscape! Rocking in your hammock in complete darkness with people on both sides, it's a very small leap to imagine yourself in the bowels of the ship, effectively blind and in close quarters with your fellow shipmates. And as you lie there listening to the ice squeeze the wood until it snaps, reality snaps a little as well and you might find yourself wondering if you're going to make it out or if scurvy and lead poisoning will get you as well. It's intense. Then when it's over and you are back on solid, non-frozen ground and breathing non-salty air, everything seems a little strange.
I recommend ALL WELL very highly. First, PETE's awesome -- I am loving the current "constellation of performance," The Journey Play is the Whole Thing. Second, ALL WELL is a completely different type of theatre experience, and if you're anything like me, you hate to miss out.
1. Buy your ticket in advance -- there are only 25 hammocks available for each performance.
2. Don't be tired -- you will be lying down in complete darkness.
3. Use the facilities before you get to the theatre -- you'll be sad if you don't.
ALL WELL runs through November 1, with several performances each night. Get your tickets at petensemble.org.