Below is our review of Fallen Saints: Salem by Force of Nature Productions. While we try to refrain from spoiling the entirety of the show; there are some spoilers below–so please be aware if you are planning on attending.
There is something very wrong with Betty, the poor girl standing next to me. She twists around, begging someone – or something – I can’t see to stop pinching her. I am not the only one watching her, however; there’s an entire audience and several Salem townspeople with me. Betty’s father, the Reverend Samuel, begs her to point out which person in the room is the witch who torments her. As I get more and more uncomfortable, I realize there is no way this ends well for anyone…
Since 2016, Force of Nature Productions has produced a Fallen Saints show every Halloween season. So it was no surprise to see a teaser for this year’s show, Fallen Saints: Salem, during Midsummer Scream 2019. Now the full production has arrived and fulfills the promise of that earlier glimpse. It’s a dark, twisted theatrical production focusing on religious paranoia and the fear of the unknown.
Fallen Saints: Salem is a 45-minute stage production that includes only a handful of immersive elements. While audience members do move through set pieces, staged props and tableaux into two different spaces, the majority of the audience’s experience consists of sitting in theater chairs and watching performers on a stage. The second half of the performance is slightly more immersive as the audience is turned into members of the town of Salem with cast members speaking directly to them. But for those who are looking for real agency or interaction in their experiences, Salem never quite crosses over into being a fully immersive event. Audience members will never forget they are exactly that: an audience watching a play.
Despite its lack of full immersion, Salem contains many aspects for audiences to enjoy. Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm’s script launches with a terrifying scene of a girl being attacked by forces beyond her control, and then explores how fear can turn communities against their own with the same amount of horror. Sebastian Munoz’ direction is equally good at creating moments that are hard to watch as he crafts the tale of a town’s religious leader turning on member after member of his congregation in an effort to save his child from the supposed predation of witches. Kyle Schriver and Tricia Minty join forces as they create a combined sound and sound SFX design that gets under the skin. With a constant undercurrent of white noise-like music and some well-placed vocal echoes that suggest either madness or magical influence, their design builds tension throughout the show. Jerry Chappell’s set design hides some clever tricks in very simple set pieces – the wall behind Betty’s bed looks entirely solid but turns out to be made of fabric so a demonic head can push through it. There’s also a great and frightening moment when Betty’s bed suddenly spawns arms that yank her down onto it. Finally, Jeff Rack’s prop design is worth a mention on its own as it allows one of the darkest moments in the show to be fully performed on stage. It’s not often that you see someone literally get hung in front of your eyes, and I truly didn’t expect the show to actually go there. Fortunately, the design made such a shocking moment possible.
Fallen Saints: Salem also has some strong performances. Allegra Rodriguez Shivers does an exceptional job as Betty, especially in the early portion of the show in which we get to see her torment manifest itself in a physical, demanding way. She uses her voice and her physicality very well as she helps us understand what she is experiencing as a character. Heidi Appe’s performance as Betty’s mother Elizabeth is stern and dark, willing to commit any action, no matter how horrible, as long as it can be justified as protecting her child. Kyle Felts’ performance as Giles, the only person trying to put reason in front of fear, is heartfelt, sincere and very believable. Finally, Jerry Chappell takes on the hardest role of all – the Reverend Samuel, a man who must hold his flock together and find a scapegoat for his daughter’s troubles at the same time. It’s a tightrope of a role and, if done poorly, could have come across as insincere or a caricature. Chappell, however, walks the line well through most of the production, his reactions only coming across as over-the-top near the very end of the play.
The one thing that would strengthen this production would be to give it more space to breathe. During several moments in the play, characters make choices so quickly it’s hard to fully invest in their actions, even when the audience wants to do so. The show does a good job of generating moments that are uncomfortable for the audience, and where the actions being taken are horrible to watch. It would be even more so if the play took a few more minutes to show how the characters are pushed or pulled or manipulated into taking those actions. This show’s plot focuses on how groups can do awful things when they don’t understand what’s happening, but such awful things tend to take a little time to develop. The narrative would be that much more effective if the production did the same and let things develop a little more before they are unleashed.
Fallen Saints: Salem tells a horrible tale in a very good way. The production is a great Halloween-themed event that will appeal to those who relish witches, fear or paranoia. Fallen Saints: Salem has some great moments of terror and theatrical frights that will raise goose bumps. Force of Nature has once again created an October tale of horror that will please those looking for a dark night out.
Fallen Saints: Salem is running through October 12th, alternating nights with their remount of Edgar Allen Poe; buy tickets for both HERE. Find out more about Force of Nature Productions and their upcoming shows on their website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook page. Make sure to subscribe to our Event Calendar for more theatrical experiences throughout the year.