nytheatre.com review by Dan Kitrosser
October 7, 2009
"It's the not-knowing that scares me—that and the touching." These were the words spoken by my friend who came with me to see and experience Vortex Theater's thrilling interactive theatrical labyrinth, Haunted House. Upon arrival at the Sanford Meisner Theatre, you are reminded many times to read the guidelines. You must be 18 or older, you must go through the haunted house alone, the actors will touch you but you may not touch the actors, the safety word to be spoken only in an emergency is "Safety." Signing the waiver in the lobby is part of the whole experience—you tell yourself, "Self, this is just a formality, nothing really is going to happen to me...right?"
And so begins the whole fear-confidence ping-pong game your brain plays, which will continue as you proceed into the dark maze with nothing but a very dim flashlight and a white line to guide you. As you go through the haunted house, you will be escorted, you will be seated, you will be touched, you will be blindfolded, you will stammer, you will crawl, and, ultimately, when the Haunted House finally gets the best of you, if you are like me, you will run. And I did run. The last stretch, my heart pounded, and my palms were sweating, and I was laughing at myself for actually being so scared. Of a play. Of a 15-minute, interactive play on 11th Avenue.
The performers, some acrobatic, some naked, all creepy, do their damnedest to put you on edge. With a haunting sound design of far-off screams, chainsaws, and 1970s country rock (which in its context is the scariest of all), and a dynamic twisting-tunneled set, you are thoroughly thrust out of any comfort zone you began with. But the greatest accomplishment of Vortex Theatre's Haunted House is the amount of time they give your brain to conjure its worst fears; inside this haunted house, your brain is your biggest liability. There is no narrative to the piece, but if the show was about a story, it would instantly turn you into the objective audience, instead of the main character whose wild imagination is quickly taking over. It is the "not-knowing" that pushes you to your limits, that makes, at least this reviewer, race to the finish line.
And what did I learn as soon as I got out? My friend, who promised to follow me, ended up not going into the Haunted House at all. The experience of reading the guidelines was enough of a haunted house for her. Still, I think she missed out.