Below is our review of Adios Dolores, the provocative debut immersive experience by Charley Gallay. It is reminiscent of an evocatively charged, black-and-white Vogue photoshoot, and it is gorgeous. Don’t worry about spoilers because aesthetic is king here. Thank you to Taylor Winters for help with this article.
The lobby of Zombie Joe’s Underground Theatre has been transformed into a surreal waiting room. A tall, severely dressed woman looms over me. “Stay still, Carl,” she says as she puts cat’s eye glasses on me. “Stay still, Carl,” she repeats as she fastens clip-on earrings to my earlobes. “Stay still, Dolores,” is her final order as she wraps a scarf around my neck.
My transformation complete, with headphones pumping a haunting melody into my ears, I follow her. Through a door – and out onto the street. Walking down the street, I was on display for the world to see – as Dolores. We reach one more door, and I enter the surreal dreamscape of Adios Dolores by Charley Gallay.
Gallay, a photographer by trade, draws inspiration from the glamour photography of Helmut Newton to create a surreal nightmare-scape of violence and sexual objectification against a backdrop of the existential terror of the early nuclear age. Dolores, the main character, is a femme fatale with a heavy emphasis on the fatale.
Adios Dolores is comprised of a series of mostly disconnected vignettes that includes a dizzying number of shifts of POV, gender, and occasionally the language spoken. Sometimes you are Dolores, sometimes you talk to Dolores, and sometimes you watch her disembodied psyche do an interpretive dance. These shifts are meant to confuse, disorient, and even gaslight you – until your role and compliance is malleable by all around you.
All of this is highlighted by uncomfortable moments of sexual objectification. However, just like the rest of Adios Dolores, the objectification is never straightforward: sometimes you are the perpetrator and sometimes the object. As Dolores, you go through a job interview where it is clear the office couch will be an important part of the job description. But then as a photographer, you take the photos of a woman who bares everything for you, until she is nothing but a shell.
Guests go through Adios Dolores alone, mirroring the fact that objectification often happens in private. While physical contact is limited to light touch, there is a great deal of intensity due to a sensory barrage of lights and sound. Bright strobes punctuate a stylized scene where mug shots are being taken, and there is a loud and bewildering bilingual police interrogation, not to mention a number of scenes with extended and possibly uncomfortable eye contact. There is even a chainsaw. According to the ticket information, the level of intensity can be customized; I was not asked about this, so I can’t speak to how this would be implemented or where my own experience fit on the intensity spectrum.
Also, while it is a solo experience, if you’re accompanied by another guest, there is an option for the second guest to wait in the lobby until their own showtime. Be aware, though, that although the second guest is given headphones, they sometimes do not block sounds fully, and it is possible to get spoilers of certain particularly loud parts of the show. Did I mention there was a chainsaw?
The all-female cast plays both male and female parts with fluid ease. With a small touch to my knee and a snake-like smile, Denee Jordan as my prospective male boss on a job interview ensures that I shower twice after the experience. Her acting transcends gender, and her performance is perfectly disgusting. Conversely, as Dolores, Ayden Skye conveys a wanted sexuality. Words hang on her lips and command attention. I never even cared what she was saying because it was so much more evocative in how she was speaking. And while both Skye and Jordan spread their legs in their scene, their sexualities are expertly contrasted: one taking a masculine, dominating pose, and the other offering feminine fluidity and reward. Gia Rose and Alina Kalinowska as dual Miss Vs are exceptional, clinical, and powerful. Their addition further dehumanizes everything you’re seeing – a clinical study of vapid beauty. And finally, Scarlet Monk as Dolore’s psyche, wrapped in a deadly Butoh dance is mesmerizing. Her movements are pained, unhuman – but beautiful. Are you noticing a pattern here?
The lighting only serves to elevate the performance of each actor – it dims with specific lines, brightens with others, perfectly outlines the actors’ faces, and then dims again to shroud them in darkness. The lighting may be minimal – but that’s all that is necessary. A simple projector illuminates a fashion model as her disjointed movements reinforce the thought that she is not much more than the body she inhabits. Her movements are sexy – but also laced with a malice, hidden beneath the surface.
Loud noises there may be, but Adios Dolores is all about the visuals, and the moods they evoke. Aesthetic is paramount here – surpassing narrative, dialogue, or sets. Everything feels provocative and erotically charged – but off-limits. It’s a black-and-white Vogue photoshoot come to life. But guests who read between the lines can see it’s interlaced with a profound sense of alienation and anomie. Dolores’ dehumanization is such that despite having been in her shoes (or at least her scarf and earrings) you will leave the theater still not knowing who she really is. You enjoy her looks – but does much else matter?
Gallay purposefully made the words nearly meaningless. Much like the actresses littered throughout the experience, his dialogue is gorgeous – but lacking depth, purpose, connectivity. Dígame la verdad, Dolores. Well, the truth is you’re gorgeous, you’re an image in a magazine, you’re something that will always be remembered – but who even are you?
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