Theater Review: Delusion, the Haunted Play

delusion-3When you think of Halloween attractions, it’s likely haunted houses or haunted hayrides come to mind—lots of creepy zombies or creatures lurking in the dark, jumping out at you. While those attractions can certainly be fun, scares without a purpose are not exactly my favorite thing. Theater, however, is one of my favorite things, as is Delusion, a unique Halloween attraction that is part haunted house, part escape room, and part interactive theater, à la New York’s wildly successful Sleep No MoreRather than waiting to be frightened as an innocent bystander, you are a part of the story, and your actions play a real part in how the events unfold.

I first attended Delusion, which is best described as an immersive, haunted play, back in 2012, and returned in 2014. After taking a year off in 2015, Delusion is back this fall with a brand new play entitled His Crimson Queen, written and directed by Jon Braver. Previous seasons were produced by Neil Patrick Harris, and Delusion has become a staple of LA’s elaborate, impressive Halloween scene, typically selling out the entire run within days of releasing tickets.

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Photo provided by the Delusion team

This year’s Delusion takes place at a spooky villa in the West Adams neighborhood of LA. While the play itself only lasts just under an hour, there is more to the overall experience, including a lounge area where you can obtain some liquid courage before embarking on the journey. Participants are called upon to enter the house and begin the play in groups of about 10, with new groups cycling through on a schedule devised so you never encounter another group during your time in the house. An actor guides you inside and proceeds to deliver some exposition to set up the story, and the rest of the evening plays out via a combination of the script, actors’ guidance, and your own group’s willingness to, as Delusion‘s slogan says, “play your part.”

In His Crimson Queen, you and your fellow participants (“audience member” is hardly an applicable word for this situation) portray the adult children of a mysterious couple with ties to the supernatural. The story takes place in 1930s upstate New York, where you have received a letter from your father, Berke, implying your long-presumed dead mother, Selene, is actually alive and being held prisoner under mysterious, sinister circumstances. Your mission is to find her, without incurring the wrath of the unpredictable families of vampires who live in the villa and have no intention of giving up Selene without a fight.

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Photo provided by the Delusion team

The list of warnings on Delusion‘s website and on the waiver you sign before entering the villa is quite lengthy, and for good reason. A notable difference between this play and your average haunted house is that the performers can and will touch you, and you may be somewhat forcibly separated from the group to perform a plot-crucial task. To an extent, the level of interactivity is what you make it—there are many opportunities for the brave to volunteer and be more involved, although on more than one occasion, participants were selected at random and placed in situations that are not for the faint of heart (without giving too much away, let’s just say that if you fear being alone in small, enclosed spaces, I would try to avoid being “kidnapped” by any actors during this iteration). It is also important to note that Delusion involves a lot of small, dark spaces, stairs, running and hurrying from room to room, and occasional crawling or crouching. I highly recommend reading the frequently asked questions before deciding if Delusion is for you.

Due to the highly interactive nature of the performance, no two groups will have exactly the same experience, and the talented actors must have a great deal of fun playing along while still sticking to the essential mechanics of the script. For those who enjoy escape rooms, this iteration of Delusion had one segment that felt a lot like one, in which the group had to work together, without the presence of actors, to locate specific objects across several rooms to enable us to take the next step in the story. The tension builds beautifully, and your heart rate will definitely rise as you make your way to the play’s impressive conclusion. I do not want to spoil the specifics of the plot, but I will point out that the production value is, as was also true in years past, truly first rate and impressive, and some of the special effects will leave you gasping.

fullsizerender-5Only a few nights into this year’s run, it was apparent Delusion was still working out a few kinks. It was very warm inside the villa, to the point of being borderline uncomfortable, and the organization of the valet parking, the bar (although once up and running, the themed drinks were quite delicious), and the rate at which groups entered the mansion did not yet seem to be mastered. There was also one minor technical glitch during the play that was covered well by an actor, but still noticeable. That being said, I am hopeful they will work out any remaining glitches for the rest of the currently sold-out run, and there are already rumors of a possible extension.

Overall, I find Delusion to be one of the most unique, creative experiences out there, and it is a perfect, smart alternative to anyone feeling standard haunted house or haunted maze fatigue. While it is certainly a must-see experience for those who love all things horror and Halloween, I think it’s also a must-see for theater fans looking for something innovative and stimulating. Any theater performance inspires a temporary escape from reality, but Delusion takes it a step further because you fully become part of a new, different world—and it’s a pretty creepy one.

The initial run of Delusion: His Crimson Queen is sold out, but to be the first to learn of opportunities to purchase tickets for a possible November extension, sign up for the mailing list at enterdelusion.com and follow the play on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @enterdelusion.


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