It’s not easy to write an ending for any story, let alone thirty different ones, but that’s exactly what They Played Productions is attempting to do with Captivated: You, the culmination of a collection of five immersive theatre experiences, bringing their modern Frankenstein story to a dramatic, if imperfect, close.
The Captivated series began in 2018, with Captivated: Justine, an innovative, LARP-style approach to storytelling that allowed audiences to feel a distinct sense of agency even while a delicate, deliberate tale was told around them. Multiple layers of deceit and mystery continued to unfold over the months following, beginning with the mini-chapter Captivated: Mike at 2018’s Midsummer Scream convention, a clever experience spread over the whole space of the event that served as an excellent onboarding experience for those who may have missed Justine, and promised even more excitement to come. Following this was the second full-length show, Captivated: Victoria, which expanded on the LARP style, providing a sandbox-style open world for audiences to explore. The interactions with different characters combined with one-on-one interactions provided glimpses into the somewhat unsavory truth behind the character Victoria we know today. In Winter 2018, Captivated: Nick offered a unique look at Justine’s origin story with a sinister yuletide twist. All this exposition, intrigue, and creeping horror has built for over a year now, all leading to this, Captivated: You, the anticipated finale.
To recap some of the story so far: Back in 2018, our psychiatrist, Dr. Victoria Polidori, invited us to a party at her apartment, and it slowly began to seem like she’d brought us there with less than stellar intentions. Over the course of the Captivated series, her initially murky motivations have slowly been revealed as selfish, evil, and cunning; she’s a woman twisted by the death of her husband. Meanwhile, characters like Mike and Emma, a failed reporter and a hacker, have toiled in the shadows in an attempt to expose the real truth: Her “parties” are just set-ups for a series of kidnappings and murders. So far, there are thirteen women missing, orchestrated by Victoria and her underlings, Ely and Henry. These murders serve a twisted purpose, and here’s where the Frankenstein of it all comes in: The dead women have been providing “bodies” for the Justine “personality” that Victoria has created. The woman we know as Justine is just a construct, layered over the mind of her original host, Abby (we saw her meet her initial fate at Nick); Abby is the unwilling monster to Victoria’s Doctor Frankenstein. Now, at Captivated: You, with all the facts finally tumbling out onto the table, it’s up to us to make decisions that will determine the fate of all involved.
The structure of Captivated: You, as in the chapters before it, is the strongest point of the production. Guests have their own “tracks” that, depending how they choose to act, will change the ending of the experience. Each guest will influence one portion of the narrative with their choice, with the entirety of the group’s choices resulting in one of many endings. Writers/Creators Erik Blair and Thea Rivera have exhausted themselves to make thirty of these unique options for the big finish, each resulting from a different combination of audience choices. This framework in and of itself is not only ambitious; it’s truly admirable. That said, there are inherent difficulties presented in mounting a story with so many options and moving parts.
Because the dialogue and tone constantly shift depending on the direction the audience takes the show, the production tends to feel as if it’s getting ahead of itself. Performers deliver dialogue too quickly, too woodenly, sometimes even too emphatically for the given situation. Audiences are on-boarded with a rapid-fire (re)introduction to the Captivated world by Katie Kitsch as super-hacker Emma who, in her (necessary) rush to get everyone up to speed, comes off somewhat inconsistent, borderline over-the top in her delivery. Similarly, sinister characters played by Stepy Kamei (Victoria) and Josh Ritz (Henry) have all the trappings of villainy, yet seem to lack something, either in dialogue or due to nerves, that drives home their execution. The resultant performances seem inauthentic and fail to inspire the level of unease the narrative calls for.
On the other end, both Erik Blair as Ely and particularly Sarah Morris as Justine/Abby are fantastic in their performances, constantly flitting between different tones, motivations and deliveries in reaction to their audience. Blair’s LARP experience, both as a performer and a creator, is extremely useful here, as it has been throughout Captivated; he has an excellent understanding of how to adapt his performance to his surroundings. Morris commits fully to the disparate characters of Justine and Abby, providing the clear impression that she has a complete understanding of each woman’s personality, and particularly how they clash with each other.
Despite these notable performances, some characters either appear far too infrequently or are never encountered within the experience. Glenn David has shined in prior chapters as would-be street detective Mike, but my small group never had the chance to interact with him, despite the purpose of our “mission” for the evening being his rescue. Granted, one could argue that such is the design of the show: The audience is split off to have simultaneous, different experiences, all twisting together to make an ending. And yet, since each of these experiences have a direct correlation to the overall finish of the production, not knowing the fate of one character that we’ve come to know throughout the course of the series, or how they fit into the ending, feels unfulfilling, like a hole is missing in the narrative proper. As it stands, regardless of how many different endings are available, if any of them don’t tie together in a satisfying way, audiences that have spent four shows in the Captivated world will feel distinctly unsatisfied.
Captivated: You does make an attempt to account for this “missing” narrative, and it’s a version of something that pulled previous chapters together, Victoria in particular. In Victoria, we were given a set-up which allowed audiences to share the information gleaned from one-on-one interactions with each other during the show; we would be pulled away individually and then rejoin the group to whisper about what we’d learned as we saw fit. Unfortunately, this option, though present, was lacking cohesion in You – we had very little time, if any, to discuss each other’s individual tracks – removing that sense of a group-effort which was present in previous shows. This may be a structural issue, and a correctable one at that, as Emma (Katie Kitsch) did make an effort to have us elaborate on our tracks – she would just need to either press harder for guests to explain the specific choices they made that have led to the final scene they’re about to witness, or this short group coming-together needs to be given more time to gestate.
Overall, Captivated: You is still an impressive attempt at an extremely complex show structure. Where the production falls short is in the execution of what sometimes feels like an unwieldy plot. The long-touted finish feels rushed at the end, and the carefully hidden “rails” of the experience become quite visible; it leaves guests wanting for greater exposition, or at very least a broader understanding of why things are ending this way. It may be better served by simplifying its format and focusing on the quality of its endings rather than the sheer number of options it provides.
All photos by Matt Kamimura.
Choose your own ending and buy tickets to Captivated: You HERE. For a recap of the Captivated story so far, click HERE. For more more information about They Played Productions, including updates and tickets for their 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival show, Internal, visit their website, or follow them on Instagram.