“Siempre hay dos lados a una historia…”
I’m on the phone with a murderer, but I can’t bring myself to hang up. In the background I can hear something in the other room inexplicably clatter to the ground, which throws the murderer, Cooper, into a nervous frenzy. The only other person in the house, Cooper’s former partner and the mother to his child, is currently floating facedown in an overflowing bathtub. It’s safe to say that she’s in no state to be knocking down objects in the other room. I listen as Cooper grabs his five-year-old daughter, Rachel, and forces her to crawl under the bed with him. As they take refuge there, I can hear Rachel’s rapid, fearful breathing. Cooper forces me to comfort her, and I manage to choke out a few desperate words of reassurance. She says nothing in reply. In fact, she hasn’t said a word to anyone in two months. “Do Daddy a favor and say something,” Cooper insists. When his daughter remains silent, his tone abruptly shifts from reassuring to angry. He turns his attention to me, demanding to know why she won’t talk to him. My own rage and despair prompt a surge of courage, and I reply with the truth we had all been dancing around: “She won’t talk to you because you’re the monster under her bed, Cooper.”
Rebozo is a one-on-one remote experience from Under the Bed, a festival of six encounters by Candle House Collective. This experience occurs entirely over the phone and is accessible to anyone in the United States or Canada with a text-enabled mobile phone. Directed by John Ertman and created by Evan Neiden (with contributions from Elisa Swanson), this encounter consists of one voicemail message, texted drawings, and six phone calls over the course of two days. Each phone call lasts approximately half an hour. Compared to the other Under the Bed experiences, this one is the most interactive; however, participants ultimately have no agency to change the story’s outcome.
In Rebozo, participants are volunteers for Rebozo Reconnections, a fictional company that specializes in mending torn or fraying relationships through discussion and conflict resolution. For their first assignment, participants help a young couple, Cooper and Luisa, navigate tension in their relationship as they seek to make the best decisions for their young daughter, Rachel. She’s begun producing nightmarish drawings, each of which depict a long-haired figure’s aggressive presence in the life of a small girl who presumably represents Rachel. Cooper places the blame squarely on Luisa’s shoulders, citing her frightening and oft-repeated story of La Llorona as the source of Rachel’s sudden muteness and disturbing illustrations. From his perspective, the monster in the images must be the weeping woman herself, La Llorona.
Rebozo is a modern-day take on the classic Latin-American folk tale, La Llorona (“The Weeping Woman”). Folktale-inspired experiences are a sweet spot for Candle House Collective; the company’s debut experience, Last Candle ARX, drew heavily on folk tales as inspiration for content to create a powerful experience that left an impression on participants. Rebozo brings the story of La Llorona to life with fresh perspective and relevance. The title of this experience, Rebozo, references a specific type of long scarf or shawl traditionally worn by Latin-American women. The title itself is an encouragement toward a shift in perspective; though the tale of La Llorona seems at face value to be a horror story, what if these stories are good for more than just a spine-chilling diversion? What if these folk tales can actually function as a shroud to protect us; a rebozo wrapped around us by those who tell the tale? What if the lessons they have to teach us are worth the discomfort?
As a horror story, Rebozo succeeds in incrementally building tension, crescendoing into an unexpected conclusion that is equal parts tragic and horrifying. Rebozo’s narrative is strong, intriguing, and filled to the brim with the kind of details that seem unimportant at first glance, but are imbued with new significance as the plot unfolds. Cooper periodically texts images of Rachel’s haunting drawings (created by Daniel Hendon) to participants throughout the show, and the macabre nature of these images both gets under participants’ skin and foreshadows the events to come.
Though Rebozo can be enjoyed at face value as a brilliantly-told horror story, several themes stand out just beneath the surface. Candle House Collective reminds participants that there is no handbook for the human experience, which is arguably also a theme for the entire Under the Bed festival. This truth becomes clear as participants find themselves in scenarios where they are forced to have excruciatingly difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Much like in Good Morning, participants also have to wrestle with the fact that there are two sides to every story. This is cleverly executed in Rebozo; as volunteers for Rebozo Reconnections, participants’ primary job is to discern both Cooper and Luisa’s perspective on the problems plaguing their relationship. Both sides of the story have merit, forcing participants to think critically and choose their words carefully. Within Luisa and Cooper’s narrative, however, participants are also left to wonder whether or not all is as it seems in the story of La Llorona. These seeds of doubt set Candle House Collective up to brilliantly subvert expectations for how Rebozo would pan out, and at the show’s conclusion we see Luisa both fulfilling and forsaking the role of the Weeping Woman.
Each member of Rebozo’s cast delivered a performance that was no less than exemplary. Sar Cohen’s performance as Luisa Padilla-Santos was both brazen and down to earth in a way that immediately won over participants. Cohen flawlessly captures the gradual disintegration of Luisa’s skepticism toward the participant, and this sense of earned trust cultivates an intense emotional buy-in to Luisa’s fate. Harrison O’Callaghan is equally talented in his role as Cooper MacLaren, Luisa’s partner. O’Callaghan brings charm, enthusiasm, and contagious optimism to his performance, leaving participants initially convinced that Cooper is every bit the loving partner and doting father that he seems to be. When the show takes a dark turn, O’Callaghan oscillates between frenzied emotion and nonchalance with ease, and the effect is chilling. Both Cohen and O’Callaghan are extremely talented at improvisation, which is instrumental to the success of such a highly interactive experience. If any actors can handle audience members dishing it right back to them (as our editor-in-chief may have), it’s these two.
As a volunteer for Rebozo Reconnections, participants are sent a link to a five-minute-long audio training guide via text message on the morning of their encounter. This guide details the audience member’s role as a volunteer, explaining how, over the course of several phone calls, they will provide both advice and support to the assigned couple. In addition, this voicemail provides brief audio introductions from the experience’s two main characters, Cooper and Luisa. The audio recording makes it clear that there is no one style of support expected from audience members. While this lack of explicit guidance is both exciting and freeing for participants who enjoy asking questions and leading conversations, it also has the potential to be quite intimidating for participants who are new to immersive experiences. Once the experience begins, however, it is worth mentioning that Neiden created Rebozo in such a way that the actors are able to effortlessly advance the narrative while still maintaining the illusion that the audience member is the one guiding the conversation.
Candle House Collective integrated a handful of songs of varying significance into Rebozo, helping to round out and add flavor to the experience. Upbeat hold music would play before the phone calls, which is to be expected when making a phone call via a corporate entity. The show itself closes with the song “Breezeblocks” by Alt-J, with the lyrics “Please don’t go, please don’t go, I love you so, I love you so” playing on repeat. The lyrics are fitting, given Cooper’s desperation to stop Luisa from taking his daughter – a desperation that would ultimately lead to tragedy. Perhaps the most significant use of music in Rebozo is Luisa’s emphasis of one particular verse from the classic Mexican folk song, La Llorona. The verse goes: “¡Ay de mí!, Llorona, Llorona. Llorona, que sí, que no. La luz que me alumbraba, Llorona, en tinieblas me dejó.” This translates to: “Oh my, Weeping Woman. Weeping Woman: yes – no (Note: though “yes, no” is the literal translation, the meaning is more like a push and pull of the name). The light that was shining on me, Weeping Woman, left me in foggy darkness.” These lyrics reinforce the duality between Luisa’s simultaneous adherence to and deviation from the role of the Weeping Woman.
No show is perfect, but Rebozo came impressively close. The narrative is strong and nuanced, the acting commendable and engaging, and the use of supporting media chilling and expertly-timed. Rebozo is a creative take on the classic tale of La Llorona, proving once again that Candle House Collective truly shines when breathing new life into old folk tales. This ensemble of master storytellers refuses to tie a neat little bow on the human experience, instead opting to embrace stories like Rebozo that are complex, messy, and bring participants face to face with the monsters under the bed.