After nine long months, your wife finally goes into labor. Everything has led up to this moment. Your family is about to be complete. But tragedy strikes as soon as you walk into the operating room, and everything becomes chaos from there. It is now up to you to raise your new addition on your own. Will you rise to the occasion and be the best dad you can be? Or will you cave from the pressure and responsibility of being a single dad? You’ll figure it out – one way or another – with Zombie Joe’s DAD: A PATERNAL IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE.
DAD leads fearless audience members/participants through the joys, stress, and nightmarish moments that come with raising children. Brought to you by Zombie Joe’s Underground and director Brandon Slezak (Together Again and I Want to Be! Benjamin Franklin), DAD is a 20-30 minute immersive experience in which new “dads” will be tugged on, led around, and pushed a bit by their “children.” There are some tight spaces, sitting and getting up, kneeling, and instances of walking quickly. There is no way to change or alter the experience to accommodate mobility issues. As someone with mobility issues (I have a full leg brace that goes from my upper thigh, down my leg, and completely under my foot) I found the actors to be extremely accommodating and had no issues during the show except one small moment during which the actors sit on the ground to play with army men. I opted for the nearby chair.
This experience focuses on the pressures of being a single dad… especially when your kids are slightly creepy. Each performance accommodates six guests (one dad per child), but if a participant does not show up, one lucky dad gets surprised with twins – like I was! Twins are a lot. I can say that because I happen to be an identical twin. From the moment the doctor ushered me through the door, my new twins were being born and immediately clinging to me. Within seconds, your whole world changes! Participants are instantly dragged off by their new children and taken through some of the many situations a single dad might go through. For the next 20-30 minutes, you will feel everything from anxiety to joy, to just being completely overwhelmed… and I loved every second!
There are several different tracks that guests can take, so I can only review what I experienced. I was the proud dad of Derek (David Dickens) and Emily (Nicoletta Hanssen). You get to name your children, so I named them after my niece and nephew. They were both super energetic and fun! They pulled me around, tugged on my clothes, and led me through a super fun experience. You can tell that Dickens and Hanssen are seasoned immersive theater actors. Not once did I feel unsafe or uncomfortable with them. If I could choose them to be my fake children again, I would – even if they are downright scary at times!
It’s a shame that, like any track-driven immersive experience, I didn’t get to try out all of them to see everything on offer. However, one instance that really brought a deep, gut-wrenching anxiety out of me was when the children’s grandmother (Sabrina Guyll) entered the bathroom scene. She is their mother’s mom, and she blames the kids for killing her daughter during childbirth. There is a very ’50s campiness to the character, yet a deep-set disdain for her grandkids. Guyll’s acting is phenomenal; so much so that she almost brought me to rage when she went to spank one of my children with a paddle! Those are some serious acting skills. I tried to stop it and started to get really upset, but I was unsure how far we could go. It seemed as though I had to allow the spanking due to the exchanged dialogue, but that was extremely difficult to do. The rest of the cast is also incredible, and, from what I could tell, extraordinarily engaging.
For Zombie Joe’s theater being such a small space, the cast of DAD utilizes it well. They have one larger area where all of the dads congregate at various times, but for the most part each of us was with our own kids, having our own experience. They split the theater into different locations by using curtains and random walls, and corners indicating various settings. For example, the closet where I slayed the dreaded monster (You know… when a kid is freaked out because they believe that there was a monster in their closet? If not, I highly suggest that you Ask Jeeves) was later used as my dad’s (Ian Michaels) garage, where we had a nice father-son chat about dating. I had more fun in this small theater than most of the bigger productions that I’ve seen.
The biggest thing that stands out about DAD is the amount of heart that went into it. The actors, director Slezak, and Zombie Joe himself… they all genuinely love what they do and it radiates from their work. Speaking of Zombie Joe (the fearless leader of ZJU)… what a great guy! He’s incredibly kind, and genuinely wants you to enjoy the show. I had a great time speaking with him before the experience began, which made me feel very welcome and at ease before going into the theater for the first time. Zombie Joe gives participants a lagniappe of delight when they visit his theater. I can’t wait to see their next show!
DAD: A PATERNAL IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE has one night of performances left, with five showtimes! Catch it Monday, July 1st at 8:00pm, 8:30pm, 9:00pm, 9:45pm or 10:15pm. Tickets available here. Participants must be 18 years of age, and sign a waiver before entering the theater. There is no late entry or refunds. To learn more about ZJU, check out their website or Facebook page.
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