In the dark corner of a small room cluttered with books, scribbled notes, and fractured glass shards adorning the walls, a girl clutching a diary is startled by my appearance. Her eyes are as deep as two black abysses staring at me. She introduces herself as Amelia and leads me deeper into her workshop. She shows me the copious amounts of research she’s gathered over the years in the hopes of understanding The Tear – a portal she created that connects my world to hers. She carefully touches my wrist, navigating her index finger until she locates my pulse. “You’re still alive,” she says, mystified. Confused, I ask her why there is a possibility that I wasn’t alive. Amelia gleefully smiles. “This is the afterlife,” she says. Welcome to Obscurum.”
Dark Passage is the latest immersive experience by Sarah Elger and Ricky Brigante of Pseudonym Productions, the company behind the horrifyingly satirical ARX thriller NOFILTER, and their first large-scale production after their recent relocation to Philadelphia. Running at approximately 65 minutes, Dark Passage sets itself apart from other traditional haunted houses in Philly by creating a horror-centric narrative with an accompanying cocktail bar (dubbed the Strange Spirits Lounge), and inviting guests to explore the fragmented realm of Obscurum through an open-world format. Left to the participants’ own devices and curiosities, the story is theirs to discover through a variety of dreamlike sets, surreal visual art, and interactions with darkly vibrant characters, each possessing their own ideologies and theories to the cause behind the recent deterioration of Obscurum.
The moment guests walk through The Tear, they’re greeted with the first of many questions to answer throughout their stay in Dark Passage: Take the path of chaos, which leads to the area of Obscurum governed by the Morituri? Or journey down the path of order, governed by the Illuminaries? This decision will set participants’ first impressions in this cerebral and Lynchian dreamscape, but each individual is free to backtrack and explore each side as long as they wish. How guests choose to experience and discover Dark Passage is up to the individual; even finding a cohesive and tangible conclusion to the events unfolding is not entirely the goal. For someone who is more of an observer, Dark Passage can be treated as a casual hangout space to sip on cocktails, relax on one of the many ornate furnishings, take photos inside Obscurum, or act as a lingering spirit during this stimulating performance. Should a participant choose to involve themselves in the narrative, they might be given tasks, form alliances, and shape the structure of the story by sharing their discoveries with the characters encountered throughout the night.
The centerpiece of Dark Passage’s world of Obscurum is the enigmatic cast of characters that inhabit it: Amelia (Myriam Bloom), the main protagonist, a curious girl who seeks to reassemble her haunting and tragic past; Ava, Queen of Chaos (Theodosia Mayfield), a conspiring fireball who pushes the boundaries of others as a means to restore truth; and the Finder (Dave Hoffenson), a man wrestling with paranoid suspicions about the ugly reality of Obscurum. All conversations are fair game for the actors, and it is evident through their engagements that they love to be questioned and challenged. Even the most trivial of set pieces can spark a conversation. For example, a hideous gargoyle statue caught my eye, and the bewitching Lucia of the Illuminaries (Ivy Leone) noticed my gaze. She proceeded to go into detail about its grim transformation from a once dignified-looking sculpture into its current state. With four primary actors and audience sizes that can reach up to 40 members per show, Dark Passage excels in making each guest feel noticed and seen by the performers, whether it be through direct conversations, or acknowledgement by gentle and appropriate touches.
Exploring Obscurum’s many hidden rooms is like navigating the residue of a memory. The Tear’s entryway welcomes audiences through a beautiful tunnel of fluorescent clouds. They glow with warmth and electricity, softly blending from one color to the next as guests make their transition from life to the afterlife. Emphasis is placed on the details by giving each area its own unique identity. The more unsettling areas of the Morituri play off the chaos by incorporating an assortment of props like small cages, mannequins, empty picture frames, and disturbing and sexual photographs all bathed under blood-red lights. In contrast, the tranquil and more peaceful quarters of the Illuminaries have walls wrapped in glimmering, reflective surfaces, clean and sleek designs, and house a large ethereal structure referred to as the Well of Souls, where peering down its blue depths gives a glimpse into the source of light and power of Obscurum. Even after the show’s hour, which feels like it passes by in an instant, I am certain that there are design elements I missed that would warrant a revisit; even if to explore and admire the same sets in further detail.
With all the traditional haunted house walk-throughs that have made Philly a popular Halloween destination, it’s a breath of fresh air to finally have a large-scale attraction that offers a fully realized world, complete with rich lore, to dive into. Dark Passage is ambitious and succeeds at allowing audiences to roam freely and create the experience they desire. Grab a drink, place your sanity at the door and, by the end, you may find the afterlife hard to leave behind.
Dark Passage had concluded its run. For more information, visit their website, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram. You can also learn more about Pseudonym Productions by visiting their website, Facebook page, and Instagram. Check out our Event Guide for more immersive entertainment throughout the year.