The following is a review for the standalone immersive piece Waking La Llorona presented by Optika Moderna. It includes descriptions of the style of performance and some technical elements, but no spoilers.
“I understand you’re here to unveil a bit of truth, is that correct?”
The classic South American myth of La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”) is currently undergoing a compassionate, stirring reexamination. Enter the office of Doctor E.S. Moctezuma, a fastidious optometrist who furnishes her patients with a unique prescription that allows them to enter the world of Optika Moderna’s inaugural immersive piece, Waking La Llorona. Booking an appointment with Doctor Moctezuma offers participants fresh eyes to gaze beyond the horror of the timeworn ghost story and focus on the less examined human tragedy at its heart that so many “monsters” seem to be made of.
Though to say Optika Moderna’s gorgeous yet brief tour into a smoky, forlorn dreamscape is merely a retelling of La Llorona’s myth would be as reductive as, say, calling Sleep No More an adaptation of Macbeth. Both pieces use their source material as a preliminary roadmap but before long they’ve drawn over it with so many new avenues, detours, and wholly unexpected directions that you may wind up in a completely different place than you originally assumed, both physically and spiritually. The comparison between Waking La Llorona and Sleep No More is an apt one, and not merely because four members of the Optika Moderna creative team and cast spent time in that storied New York hotel that is now regarded as the grandfather of the modern immersive movement. Waking occupies that same heady, intangible atmosphere that made Sleep No More such a singular, addictive experience. The tingling, intoxicating, light-headed sensation of floating away from our hard, literal world and into the hazy, romantic realm of ghosts and emotions and ideas and time itself.
The dreamlike quality of the experience is most evident in the way the story is told: through precise interpretive dance seamlessly interwoven with moments of naturalistic movement and acting, every beat of which is carefully synced to a beautifully curated atmospheric soundscape that follows you throughout the entire experience, giving an added sensory flourish to every action and behavior. A full-on rave ballet is as exactingly choreographed and emotionally wrought as a lingering glance at an old photograph or a pursed lip as a moment of regret or self-doubt flutters across an old lover’s face. In this world, every being you encounter is both ethereally inscrutable and nakedly raw as each movement betrays deep wells of feeling without anyone saying a word. Here there is a language beyond language, a deeper truth that would be obscured and perhaps even lessened by the presence of conventional dialogue. The intense eye contact that connects the performers and the audience throughout the experience conveys things that simply cannot be written down.
Participants are treated to a solo excursion through this new plain of existence and are passed from performer to performer, each one able to grant the full force of their attention before sending participants into the waiting arms of the next. There is no room to wander, deviate, or escape from what is happening directly in front of you. Still, the performances are magnetic enough and the set dressing lush enough that a certain linear quality can be forgiven. The performers are uniformly excellent, perfectly exuding the sort of otherworldly but intensely relatable presence that this style of performance requires. You and these apparitions have found each other in this strange place, their focus and body language suggesting a kind of extra sensory perception, as though they can perceive an intangible presence, possessing an awareness of something unseen in the air, in an object, emanating from yourself, imbued with visceral, heavy emotion: love, fate, confusion, dread. All senses are entertained in an effort to transport the audience into a new dimension both palpable and elusive. I was sorry that I wasn’t able to take the time to fully appreciate the richly evocative set design that suggested layer upon layer of additional meaning, as though the waves of time brought together these seemingly disparate artifacts into the exact spot where they could form a cohesive whole that speaks to the themes at play both large and intimate. The flotsam and jetsam of the soul.
Optika Moderna has given us a small sample (the experience is advertised as being half an hour, I was finished in twenty minutes) of a flavor of immersive theatre that I have yet to see offered elsewhere on this coast, and one that I think people will demand more and more of once they get a taste for it. Anyone looking for something unique that invites you to lose and then find yourself, better for the experience: this is an absolute must. Those who see the title and expect a macabre presentation rife with scares may be disappointed, but for the bold who allow themselves to be present and enveloped in the seductive, searing humanity on display will no doubt be eager to book another appointment as soon as possible.
For the latest appointment availability with Optika Moderna and Doctor Moctezuma, visit https://www.optikamoderna.com/
For reviews of other shows like this, please visit http://haunting.net/portfolio-filter/immersive-theater/