A lanky, ginger-haired man in an olive jumpsuit enters the room. He surveys the location suspiciously, but luckily, he doesn’t notice me – hidden safely behind a couch. He moves to the window and looks out, leaving his back exposed. I’m not the only one to recognize this weakness: Nick Chopper, The Tin Man, springs forth from his hiding place, brandishing his polished axe for all to see. Jack Pumpkinhead, Nick mutters, hands in the air. As Jack raises them, the hope that the Patchwork Resistance will win, that the portal will be closed, that Ozma will become whole… falls to the floor.
The Portal is the final chapter of The Speakeasy Society’s epic Kansas Collection, a ten-part saga that adapts the pages of L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series in a novel, innovative, yet familiar way. With a run-time of 90 minutes (120 for newcomers), The Portal returns to the larger, more ambitious style of The Vow, offering guests two distinct linear tracks (with two different orders to these tracks) with light levels of interactivity. Guests should expect be on their feet for most of the experience, following characters as they traverse the massive locale, moving up and down stairs, and perhaps, hiding from some of the more villainous characters.
With magic slowly returning to Oz, The Patchwork Resistance and Revolt have teamed up for one final attempt to reunite the two sides of Ozma and close the portal that the Queen has created to conquer the world. It’s a finale three years in the making and holds the hopes and dreams of so many characters – as well as audience members. Luckily for those involved, it expertly provides strong resolutions to all main narrative threads in this patchwork quilt of choice and consequence. Exploring themes of destiny, time, and good versus bad, The Portal is elevated beyond that of a simple fairy tale, bringing these grey characters to life and giving them depth.
With all narratives coming to a close, each track offers in-depth endings for half the characters: the males (Jack Pumpkinhead, Tik-tok, The Tin Man, Oscar Diggs, and Jo Files) or the females (Lavender, The Lion, and Glinda) – with Phil and Phoebe Daring’s (and Ozma’s) story coming to a close in front of all. Guests are treated to a quick explanation of what happened to the side characters once the tracks have converged, but being told that your favorite character died lacks the emotional impact of seeing it first-hand. Thus, this structure truly requires a return trip to experience a complete resolutive arc. The repetition of having multiple tracks (and characters dying twice in a single performance for the different tracks) helps validate the time dilation loop that the show mentioned so often, and acts as a sort of commentary on the character’s twists of fate, doomed to be repeated.
These characters and their resonance in our minds are a true testament to the actors that portrayed them. The Speakeasy Society has always been known for cultivating some of the best talent in the immersive realm, but spending ten chapters with these characters solidifies these actors as their characters. General Jo Files’ (Zan Headley) sense of duty and dedication have always been paramount. In The Portal, he is given the most evocative scenes of his career – and he shines as his sense of duty conflicts with what is right. The internal conflict in his mind bubbles forth, evoking an emotional response in audience and cast alike. Turning a stoic, yet easily angered, General into an empathetic and regretful man whose memory of reading books under his book tree defines the person he has become today. Probably the strongest character arc is that of Oscar Diggs played by the incogitable John McCormick. Transforming from a drunk has-been, unable to take responsibility for the choices he has made, Diggs gains strength and integrity over the later half of this collection and becomes a true leader in this chapter – something I was so happy to see. Jack Pumpkinhead (Michael Bates), the kind and timid friend to Dorothy, stands up for himself, gaining the necessary strength to provide justice in an unfair world. Finally, it would be amiss not to mention James Cowan, The Tin Man, who showed us his emotional range in The Axe. His downfall has been a slow burn – and whether his actions were necessary or inexcusable to you, he commands attention in every single scene he’s in; his immense power and energy are tangible. While I experienced the male track (and thus, will be focusing on them), I am sure the resolutive arcs of the women followed in tandem to the above comments.
The emotional impact of these scenes was only elevated by the production design of The Portal. While sets remained minimal, only providing subtle nods to Oz in lanterns and backdrops, the lighting was perfect. From the moment audiences enter the chapel, splashes of emerald green illuminate the back pillars – and the color scheme follows throughout the night. This climaxes when the mesmerizing portal opens and colors dance hazily in the billowing fog that pours out. The lighting wasn’t just contained to the main chapel though; it elevated scenes in the smaller antechambers as well. Notable was The Tin Man raising his gleaming axe above head, as the audience only witnesses the outline of his shadow, leaving the rest to our imaginations, as he makes a choice that bleeds consequence.
While the concept of choice was integral to the narrative and resonated in the arcs of all the characters – the finale proved that audience choices ultimately resulted in the same conclusion regardless of faction. Lyman, the writer and guide of this experience, often espoused the idea of choice and its corresponding consequence; but the finale cemented that choice is meaningless in the face of destiny. This does deflate the impact of some of the previous choices that audiences made and left some audience members with some unmet expectations. In an ideal world, this experience could have explored multiple personalized resolutions based on an audience member’s choice, but as Captivated: You recently showed – this is difficult to accomplish, and nearly impossible in a group experience. Plus, as a fairy tale, this really was the only ending that could have worked with the finality and fulfillment that it achieved.
The Portal is a worthy conclusion to The Kansas Collection. The Speakeasy Society must be recognized for their contribution to not just the immersive community but to art itself. The Portal just proves that they not only care about the entirety of this story, but that they have the ability to tell a complete and fulfilling narrative. Endings are increasingly difficult, weighing in expectations of audiences and tying up numerous threads – but The Speakeasy Society accomplished this wonderfully. The ending may have been expected, but for me, it was the journey that mattered, the choices that were made, the consequences that were witnessed, and The Portal was just the knot at the end of a thread. Thank you, Speakeasy Society, for this beautiful reimagining of a story that so many of us grew up with.
The Speakeasy Society is currently running an Indigogo campaign for their remounting of The Johnny Cycle; you can pledge here. Find more information about The Speakeasy Society on their website, Facebook page, and Instagram. Be sure to check out our Event Guide for more immersive experiences throughout the year.
Thank you to Gabbi Jewell for her help with this article.
Haunting is a resource for immersive theater and horror fans in Los Angeles and across the world, promoting art and community. Want to help us reach even more people, and get some cool perks and experiences? For as little as $1 a month, you can join our Patreon, and help us keep bringing content to life.