I stand in the dimly lit church, surrounded by my newly deceased companions. The altar glows a foreboding red, and an unseen chorus sings “Amazing Grace.” Robed figures sit in the pews, turned from us. Then slowly, ever so slowly, they turn in unison to face us. The figures are otherworldly, their faces skeletal, neon lights accentuating the contours of their bones. Once they’ve adequately observed us, the figures briskly turn and seemingly float toward the back room of the church, one by one. The last figure takes a lingering look at us before slamming the door shut behind them. We souls are now left to our fates. One Exit
The second experience by The Halogen Company, One Exit invites guests into the In Between as recently deceased souls now waiting to pass on. The small audience of eight is split up into four groups of two, to be led through the In Between by another recently deceased soul – Eliza (Chynna Skye, Kansas Collection), Dylan (Chasen Chris, The Willows), Xander (Aaron Lyons, Delusion) or Alice (Kylee Thurman, CreepLA). These smaller groups embark on their respective tracks with some interactivity (when prompted), light restraints, general touching from the actors, and occasional blindfolding.
One Exit alludes to Jean-Paul Sartre’s line in No Exit – “Hell is other people” – throughout the 30-minute piece. Guests of the In Between are chained to their partner, unable to find freedom from this other soul, while being processed for their final destinations. This destine theme is further reinforced by the lack of agency given to each deceased soul; their journey is already decided. Through the use of restraints and blindfolds, One Exit emphasizes the idea that every soul’s fate is sealed – and sealed with the other sinner in your small group. This works well with the track-like format of the overall production, in general, down to the narratively-themed mechanics of splitting up the group, at a granular level. We have no say in the narrative; we are but souls passing through on our way to our final resting place.
Every soul in the In Between has a story, and with that story a sin. As the deceased being processed, we are put under a microscope, judged by our sins. Those seven capital vices – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, pride – are all present in One Exit, and we must repent for ours during our stay. Each guest pairing is treated to two small, intimate scenes, each with the embodiment of a sin, during which they are instructed to confess to theirs in a notebook. These admissions come into play during the climax in which the writer of the sin must admit to the group it is theirs, or the group will forever be trapped in the In Between. Repentance is paramount.
One Exit presents a limbo-like representation of death and the In Between. Each space is cordoned off by white sheets decorated in different painted-on designs – Pride with eyes and arrows; Lust with hands rising up out of the ground; and Sloth with the comforts of a cozy home – and filled with swirling fog and dim lighting. Being blindfolded while tracing and retracing your steps creates a feeling of disorientation – something touches the back of your neck, whispers close to your ear, or blows in your hair…perhaps other souls drifting through the afterlife. The clever use of the layout makes the space feel much larger than it actually is; reminiscent of 2015’s Fear is What We Learned Here by Screenshot Productions. Behind the white-sheeted walls, the neon skeletons from the church watch and observe the guests, menacing disembodied faces floating through the void just out of reach, proving quite creepy and effective.
Filled with familiar faces in immersive theater – performers from The Speakeasy Society, Delusion, Dr3amlogikk, and JFI Productions – One Exit is brimming with talent in this monologue-heavy, character-driven piece written by Daniel Manning and Julia Henning. Playing the guide on my journey through the In Between, Chynna Skye gets to shine here as an upbeat, spirited actress, whose sassy quips bring a light-heartedness to the somber surroundings, and was a delight to interact with. But a sadness and anger hides behind her outgoing façade, and Skye rises to the challenge of her character’s emotional depth. As the embodiment of Pride, Kassie Winkler presents a cutthroat and sly version of a holier-than-thou, corrupt banker. Lust, played by Noelle Urbano (mind) and Sophie Cooper (body) – two halves of the same soul physically tethered together – play off and respond to each other well, sometimes within just a breath. While their close interaction with guests might be uncomfortable to some, it at the same time skillfully encapsulates the sin. James Cowan (Kansas Collection’s Tin Man) personifies the opulent Gluttony, kingly and commanding. Inherent in this track-driven production is a chance for repeat visits to get to see the other actors and the nuanced stories they tell.
The four characters guiding our small groups through the In Between are thoughtfully crafted, serving the whole of the narrative. Eliza is an aspiring actress who was accidentally (perhaps?) murdered by her boyfriend during their fiery and tumultuous romance. Fitting (fate?), then, that she takes guests on a journey to visit Pride and Lust. Xander, a man whose alcoholism led to a fatal car crash, visits Gluttony and Sloth in which his need for a beer and his negligence is called into question. It is clear that each detail of One Exit has been thoroughly mapped out, each piece fitting into a complicated and haunting jigsaw puzzle of entertainment that will linger with audience members.
While the show excels in producing a hauntingly gorgeous aesthetic and brims with strong acting, a few minor issues could be finessed to further enhance the experience. In the small space, with only sheets separating the various settings, the dialogue of the other scenes, when kept to a minimum volume, provides a ghostly chorus that rides on the tendrils of the fog that permeates the space. But when emotions run high, the agony or anger from other characters can be distracting to the guests as well as the performers. In one scene I witnessed, the quiet intensity of the character’s confession was drowned out by another’s anguished cries; I sadly missed some of the powerful storyline. While the group finale is exceptionally inventive and personalized, more autonomy to solve the final riddles without so much guidance from the performers would have been appreciated.
Directed by Julia Henning, One Exit is a magnificent look into several different aspects of death, sin, and fate. With many thematic layers to dive into at play, this is a production that will stick with me for some time. The nuances, intricacies, and depth of the characters within the In Between are beyond measure and wonderfully portrayed. From the sound and production designs to the personalization of the climax to the acting, One Exit is top-notch immersive entertainment. I only wish it was longer so I could hear all the stories that have been created in this rich and eerie world.
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