To the Los Angeles immersive theatre community, Unbound Production’s Wicked Lit is the old guard. Running for nine years straight, Wicked Lit has become synonymous with the whimsical side of the Halloween season, and Wicked Lit 2017 is no exception. For traditional theatre lovers, four world premiere plays are lovingly executed: The Damned Thing, Thoth’s Labyrinth, The Open Door, and framework production, Liliom. And for the haunt enthusiasts, Wicked Lit celebrates an eighth-straight year performing at Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery in Altadena, California (in the dead of night, of course.) This sprawling, spooky landscape is fully used and explored by audience members in one of the Halloween season’s best-executed and most accessible productions.
Liliom, written by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm with inspiration from the play by Ferenc Molnár, and directed by James Castle Stevens, is the connecting thread that serves to create the full experience of Wicked Lit itself. Attendees become the recently deceased, trapped before the gates of Paradise with your grim hosts. These spirits lay the groundwork and “rules” of the productions about to be shown, and provide interactive entertainment interspersed with stark tales of their lives, and deaths, between the three main plays. This is by far the most interactive portion of the experience, and is a welcome and clever distraction when the larger productions reset for rotating groups of attendees. Though guests are technically just waiting for the next performance to start, there is a consistent set of characters and narrative that permeates throughout, finally arriving at a welcome and satisfying conclusion.
The Damned Thing, adapted from the Ambrose Bierce story by Jeff G. Rack and directed by Sebastian Munoz, is a macabre tale of ghosts, time travel, curses, and curiosity. The ghost of a newly deceased man must discern the true and harrowing nature of his own death as the audience eagerly follows. This journey of the confused ghost and his grieving friend is both genuinely sad and sprinkled throughout with bright spots of humor that make it a truly unique twist on a ghost story.
Thoth’s Labyrinth, based on the Egyptian legend “The Book of Thoth,” directed by Jonathan Josephson, and directed by Darin Anthony, is the most exciting and, in a sense, modern piece of the group. Seemingly a gothic take on Indiana Jones, audience members follow explorers racing through the mausoleum itself, searching for artifacts while dangerous creatures snap at their heels. This thrilling play has multiple tracks to follow that ultimately lead to a satisfying and memorable conclusion. As the only piece not based on a specific prior work, Thoth’s Labyrinth manages a more modern twist than the other plays, particularly in its comedic aspects.
The Open Door by Margaret Oliphant, adapted by Kirsten Brandt, and Directed by Paul Millet, is a tale of a sickly boy who seems haunted by the voice of another child coming from the ruins near his house. A desperate mother struggles to save her son, who is wasting away from a mysterious illness that appears to be tied to the voice in the ruins. This piece utilizes the beautiful garden and courtyard on the Mausoleum’s grounds, and provides perhaps one of the most innovative views to the action; audiences are treated to an overhead view of the unfolding scenes. This place may seem to be the most traditional of the four, but its tradition is supported by a strong cast and an even stronger use of the surroundings to create an unsettling atmosphere.
As in previous years, Wicked Lit is an essential part of the Halloween Season. Observing the efficiency with which Unbound Productions organizes their audience and transitions seamlessly from one work to the next is nothing short of admirable. Wicked Lit may be the old guard of the immersive theatre community, but with that age comes a sense of security in the quality of the product and its continued success. Unbound Productions has created a high-quality, sumptuous world-within-a-world that brims with intelligence and confidence without alienating any level of its audience. These works may not be a “haunted house,” in a traditional sense, but in a set that is surrounded by the dead, you never know what might follow you home.