The following article contains spoilers for The Slippers, the eighth installment in The Speakeasy Society’s Kansas Collection series. These chapters are not expected to remount soon, so feel free to read on if you’ve missed this performance, and read our full-spoiler recollection here.
The message instructs me to arrive at a specific time of evening at a nondescript building in Los Angeles and wait for instructions. The sender of the message claims to have in his possession a particular pair of silver slippers rumored to have magical powers. But past events have revealed the sender to be less than trustworthy at times, and I wonder about his true intentions and loyalties. I wait in the lobby with four others who’ve also received the message, until a burly, bearded man enters the building. He’s wearing an emerald-green shirt, ragged frock coat, and a top hat covered in fraying silk. I recognize him immediately as Oscar Diggs, formerly the Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz. But, there’s no magic in Oz, or Kansas, or anywhere, anymore. Now, Oscar’s just a man. A man who needs our help.
Diggs looks us over slowly, his eyes serious. “My mother was a quilter,” he states.
I know the correct response, the phrase that will identify me as a member of the Patchwork Resistance, a group fighting to restore peace to the land of Oz. “And, now we thread the needle,” I reply.
This is the beginning of The Slippers, the eighth installment in The Kansas Collection, The Speakeasy Society’s re-imagining of Baum’s Land of Oz. The Kansas Collection is part of an ongoing ARG (alternate reality game) that combines puzzles, video messages, and live theater to tell the story of Dorothy’s adventures in Oz as it’s never been told before.
The Slippers was staged at Thymele Arts in Los Angeles, and the creators made good use of both interior and exterior spaces. Audience members were quickly led from the lobby of the building to an adjacent alleyway, then up a dark staircase into a tight hallway, before finally being directed to an unmarked doorway. Behind the door we could hear a heated argument between Phil Daring (the former leader of the Patchwork Resistance) and Glinda the Witch, who has been in hiding. The movement from space to space helped reinforce a sense of urgency and unease, and set the tone for the the events to follow.
We were eventually taken into a small, plain room sparsely furnished with a military cot and several folding tables scattered with books, maps, letters, and scribbled notes. The windows were papered over with yellowed newsprint. Empty food cans littered the room. It felt slightly claustrophobic, as though there was no way out, and evoked a sense of frenzy and desperation. I would have enjoyed more opportunity to investigate the detailed environment and get a closer look at the various objects, as I can’t help but wonder if they would have provided further information to supplement the story.
The lighting design by Andrew Lia was simple but effective, and enhanced the sense of confinement. A flickering fluorescent light and sudden blackout effect were well employed to lend a feeling of anticipation and dramatic impact at a turning point in the narrative.
The staging of some moments felt slightly static, and seemed like missed opportunities for audience interaction. At one point, we gathered in a semi-circle, and I grew excited thinking we were about to be called upon to help channel the slippers’ magic. But, as it turned out, our positioning was meant to provide a convenient viewing angle to watch the action, rather than participate.
Midway through the performance I found myself distracted by The Lion, who moved about the room, shuffling papers around as the other characters spoke. I struggled to pay attention to the dialogue. I noticed The Lion quietly sneak out of the room, taking the coveted slippers with her. My gut told me to follow her. But, because of my positioning within the room, I would’ve had to cross in front of several other audience members and interrupt a character’s monologue to do so. Not wanting to disrupt the action, I remained in the room, as did the rest of my group.
I’ve since learned that if someone had followed The Lion, it would’ve led to a special, one-on-one scene. It seems The Lion’s actions were meant to be distracting, intended to raise our curiosity enough to embolden one of us to follow her out the door. Perhaps the creators wanted to make the audience feel restless, to mimic the restlessness felt by the characters. But, the lead wasn’t clear enough for my group.
Performances were strong all around. Natalie Fryman as Glinda, John McCormick as Oscar Diggs, and Matthew Bamberg-Johnson as Phil Daring each played their parts with heartfelt sincerity. While Jessica Rosilyn as The Lion added a bit of levity to the action with her nudges and sly wisecracks.
Despite feeling stalled at moments, The Slippers was a solid show. I appreciated that there were several narrative paths, but would have liked for there to have been even more opportunities for audience engagement and activity and time to explore and take in the wonderful details of the space. Overall, though, the show left me enthusiastic for the next chapter of the story.
All photos by Model05 Productions.
You can find more information about The Kansas Collection and upcoming Speakeasy Society shows, including Chapter 9: The Storm, on their website, Instagram, and Facebook. Please see our Event Guide for more immersive theater in the Los Angeles area.