Dr. Victoria Polidori is hypnotizing us to take us back in time. We are four of her patients, lying on mats in her warm psychologist’s office, staring up at a candle projected on the ceiling as her calm voice directs us. Focus. Let’s go back to that night. One by one, we are reawakened and led to a card table. It’s Christmas, but there’s no cheer. As if in metaphor, the cards are all laid out on the table before us, and we are about to play a deadly game that will shed a light on the nightmares of the past.
Nick is the third ticketed production in They Played Productions‘ Captivated story: a wicked dose of Frankenstein tossed into a modern drama. Though it is not intended as a traditional “chapter” like Justine and Victoria before it and more like the in-between chapter Mike, it serves as a macabre bridge leading into the holiday season and the Chapter 3 finale coming in 2019. The approach to immersion is different here – it focuses more on presenting a narrative rather than having participants uncovering narrative clues themselves – but this technique allows for Nick to answer many of the burning questions still present in participants’ minds, leaving them eager for the final chapter.
Par for the course, They Played Productions uses the strength of its core cast members to deftly handle the story at hand in Nick. Stepy Kamei once again stars as Victoria, now bringing a full-bodied sinister force to the role. She’s joined by show regulars Erik Blair and Josh Ritz (Eli and Henry, respectively), who somehow convey a midnight-dark comedy that’s welcome, yet quickly snuffed out as their purpose becomes apparent. Sarah Morris also returns as Abigail; her broad emotional performance ranges from arrogance to terror in the plays shocking final reveal. Particularly enjoyable is Thea Rivera, playing herself as Victoria’s assistant; she provides strong comedic relief in her rapid-fire question-and-answer session before the show properly begins, leaving attendees wholly unprepared for the shock of the narrative’s true content.
Nick lacks the interactivity of Justine and Victoria in that participants are tied to a static performance, unable to direct action or explore a deep sense of agency. However, far from a drawback, this merely serves as a testament to creators Erik Blair and Thea Rivera’s ability to adapt their story to different narrative styles. The content is engaging and well-performed, and the use of Victoria guiding participants to perform certain actions however they see fit is a wonderful spin on a call-and-answer technique much loved in immersive productions, such as The Speakeasy Society‘s Kansas Collection. It allows participants to have a connection to the piece and, perhaps more importantly, each other, ensuring that all present leave the evening feeling both entertained and seen.
They Played Productions’ Captivated: Nick teeters on the edge of grief and sanity. Here we were invited to a hypnosis session to better understand ourselves and delve into our difficult memories, but it was immediately apparent that this session was not about us. At different times, we were party guests, patients, and potential victims in this ongoing tale, and it was never really clear in what direction we’ll head next. This is the mark of the gifted storytelling from They Played Productions that only seems to improve as their series continues. That night, we placed our bets at a card table in a distant, terrible memory. In that vein, it’s well worth betting that the next Captivated chapter will only continue to impress.