6 Immersive Theater Shows To See In New-York

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6 Immersive Theater Shows To See In New-York
December 24, 2018
The performer Nya plays the Queen of the Nile, who is served by a coterie of club kids, in “Cleopatra.”CreditCreditSantiago Felipe

 

Most shows simply require you to sit relatively still and look straight ahead. And there is no shortage of options on that front.

But there are also shows that spill out of the usual confines. Shows that envelop you, or otherwise turn you into an agent of your own experience.

There are a few fixtures in the loose genre known as immersive theater. You can still get lost in the sprawling Shakespeare-ish waking nightmare of “Sleep No More” (the granddaddy of them all), or go down the rabbit hole in “Then She Fell,” Third Rail Projects’ asylum-set take on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” More recently, “The Dead, 1904,” is becoming a festive season staple, offering fine wining and dining and a snifter of drama in a Gilded Age mansion.

But new immersive productions pop up all the time, in their different ways transcending — sometimes bulldozing — the fourth wall between performer and audience member. Here are the shows right now offering theatrical experiences that aren’t so straightforward.

 

‘Cleopatra’

A bootylicious electronic dance musical about the fall of Ptolemaic Egypt — because why not?

The scene is Alexandria, 49 B.C., though there’s nary a lyre or lute to be heard in the music and lyrics by Jeff Daye and Laura Kleinbaum. Instead, “Cleopatra” delivers beats, bass and beefy hooks in a nightclub setting that makes most musical theater feel like ancient history. The Queen of the Nile herself, played by the performer Nya and served by a coterie of club kids, commands the runway stage with a soaring voice and cape emblazoned with hieroglyphics.

With “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alumnus Dusty Ray Bottoms as Mistress of Ceremonies, and costumes by the former “Project Runway” contestant Nicolas Putvinski, “Cleopatra” is a pop concert fashion show with standing room, a bar and some intense audience participation. Seriously, though: Spectators are hauled onstage for a catwalk contest, or called upon to be the furniture for gyrating dancers. And those sitting closest to the hectic choreography best be warned: You may be sweated on.

Through Dec. 29 at Chelsea Music Hall, 407 West 15th Street, Manhattan; cleopatraexperience.com.

[Read more about how shows are making food part of the experience.]

‘Trainspotting Live’

Lauren Downie, left, and Greg Esplin in “Trainspotting Live” at Roy Arias Stages.CreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

 

There ought to be a trigger warning for the trigger warnings for “Trainspotting Live,” a catalog of horrors that includes violence, strong language, nudity, heavy drug use, audience interaction, strobe effects and Scottish accents. It’s no joke, although it’s mostly hilarious the way the actors violate your personal space from pretty much the moment you find yourself thrust into a drug-fueled rave party.

 

As adrenaline-charged as the Irvine Welsh novel and Danny Boyle movie from which it’s adapted, “Trainspotting Live” is a scabs-and-all portrait of Edinburgh smack addicts, directed by Adam Spreadbury-Maher and Greg Esplin.

 

The show fully utilizes the in-your-face qualities (or on-your-face, depending on where you’re sitting) of immersive theater, placing you right in its unsettling junkie haze. The space itself is terrifically grim, drenched in graffiti, including a pre-emptive up-yours to would-be walkouts. But maybe the most thrilling thing about this story in this mode is the proximity to performers attacking their roles with rabid wildness.

 

Open run at Roy Arias Stages — 777 Theater, 777 Eighth Avenue, Manhattan; trainspottingnyc.com.

 

‘At the Illusionist’s Table’

Scott Silven hosts the dinner show “At the Illusionist’s Table” at the McKittrick Hotel.CreditSam Hodgson for The New York Times

 

There’s getting in your face, and there’s getting inside your head.

 

Tucked away in a secluded side room of the McKittrick, the home of “Sleep No More,” is a banquet with some of that show’s sense of mystery, though the lighting and vibe are warmer here, and the spirits are alcoholic rather than phantasmagoric.

 

The mentalist Scott Silven wastes no time making origami of the minds of his assorted guests. He speaks and executes tricks with a zippy grace that suggests he knew what card, or number, or book page you just picked, about a week ago.

 

A good magic show is interactive theater, after all, and the combination of communal candlelit dinner and mentalism in “At the Illusionist’s Table” turns out to be ideal for trading looks of wonder with strangers and reveling in a sense of collective astonishment. (A couple of drinks might heighten the sense of awe, too.)

 

Plus, with a quasi-mystical through-line about our overall interconnectedness, Mr. Silven persuades us that the current gathering of guests is uniquely special — though the show is replicated eight times a week, twice a night sometimes. A pleasantly satisfying illusion indeed.

 

Through March 10 at the McKittrick Hotel, Manhattan; mckittrickhotel.com.

 

‘Love’s Labours Lost’

The performers double as wait staff in Shake & Bake’s dinner-theater staging of “Love’s Labour’s Lost.”CreditJeenah Moon for The New York Times

 

In Shake & Bake’s dinner-theater staging of this early Shakespearean rom-com, the performers double as caterers. Expect the King of Navarre, or one of his sonneteering courtiers, to deliver your beef brisket tacos, or the Princess of France to drop off your tabbouleh.

 

If dinner theater with a culinary concept sounds a bit cute, the show really isn’t aiming for high-nutritional value. There’s a percussion number with stirrers and glasses, and tongs used as castanets. And, by Act 4, it’s possible to discern the sweet music of a dishwasher backstage.

 

Perfectly fine and fitting for one of Shakespeare’s bubbliest works, the whole thing is about as effortlessly edible as a Cheeto-dusted mac and cheese. Apart from that, what a delight to see Shakespeare’s ladies call the shots, not to mention doing shots with Shakespeare’s ladies.

 

Through Jan. 6 at 94 Gansevoort Street, Manhattan; shakeandbaketheatre.com.

 

Up Close Festival

Neatly turning youngsters’ inherent curiosity and disinclination to stay put into an advantage, the inaugural Up Close Festival presents two programs of enriching, all-ages storytelling, with kooky neighborhood historian Ms. Pea as host and plenty of opportunities to interact.

 

According to its curator Peter Musante, before the show begins, families will be encouraged to get hands-on with the space, sort of a historical archive-as-playroom: artifacts, maps, boxes begging to be opened. Then they can pull up a seat, or cushion, or padded box, for playlets and pieces drawn from the true history of the West Village, including the story of the city’s first integrated club, and the 1965 blackout. There will be a scavenger hunt, dress-ups and songs, as well as an appearance by Pizza Rat.

 

Mr. Musante, who served time with Blue Man Group, enlisted a bunch of experimental theater artists for this hearty helping of community spirit, with the aim of not just being immersive but embracive.

 

Dec. 20 through 31 at the New Ohio Theater, 154 Christopher Street, Manhattan; newohiotheatre.org.

 

‘The Mortality Machine’

Lara Marcin in “The Mortality Machine.”CreditLiz Paulie

 

While most shows will draw the line at letting you pick where you sit, here is one entirely driven by your choices, upgrading you from passive observer to protagonist in something like a real-life video game. No pressure, then.

 

According to its writer Ryan Hart, at the outset of “The Mortality Machine” (for ages 18 and up), small groups will be led into a subterranean laboratory and invited to sift for clues, among the scattered ephemera, about the mysterious fate of a deceased relative. From here, your investigative abilities and decision-making skills — or lack thereof — will set you on a course to one of a number of different endings. No two shows will play out the same way.

 

Mr. Hart and the team at Sinking Ship Creations, designers of 360-degree interactive experiences, prefer the term “live-action role-play” to “escape room.” You can think of it as immersive, site-specific theater too, with its own complex dramaturgical form and an improv-trained cast ready for any eventuality. You just happen to be co-author of the story, and in control of your own theatrical fate.

 

Exhilarating! Or terrifying. It depends on you. Isn’t that itself exciting?

 

Jan. 15 through Feb. 3 at Wildrence, 59 Canal Street Basement, Manhattan; themortalitymachine.com

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