If you're tired of extreme haunts and modern horrors, here is a chance to step back into a shadowy period of the Victorian era for an encounter with ghosts of the past. Fallen Saints, an immersive Halloween experience at the Actors Group Theatre in Burbank, takes audiences on a brief tour of a haunted mortuary, where a medium makes contact with souls of the restless dead - some tragic, some terrifying. More stage play than haunted house walk-through (though containing elements of both), Fallen Saints is built around a strong concept, enhanced with nice theatrical touches, even if the show ultimately promises more than it delivers.
The event begins on the sidewalk outside the venue, where the proprietor of the mortuary greets visitors before bringing them into the reception area. A ghostly violinist evokes plaintive notes from his instrument while his sad history is related by the mortuary host. A crazed morgue attendant proudly displays her grizzly, prized possessions, which afford clues foreshadowing what will happen later. A brief walk through a corridor takes the audience past mysterious figures, including a statuesque angel intoning ominous Biblical verses. Entering the séance room, the audience takes their seats and watches while a medium invokes the mortuary's troubled spirits, in an effort to put them to rest. The effort goes astray, with terrifying results.
Fallen Saints is clever in its buildup. The nom de guerre of its infamous real-life villain is never uttered aloud, but subtle hints to his identity set the stage for his "unexpected" arrival - an all-stops-out moment augmented with flashing lights and thundering sound effects. The problem is that the buildup leave the audience expecting more. It's not enough simply to let the genie out of the bottle; we want to see some disastrous results - like a return trip through the reception area, with the morgue attendant and the mortuary host splayed out like victims of the evil spirit that has been unleashed upon the unsuspecting outside world.
If we were to pick one element as synecdoche for Fallen Saints, it would be the bottle of holy water the mortuary proprietor handed us at the top of the evening. A prop like this is a figurative promissory note, indicating that special interactive treatment awaits later, probably involving an important plot point or an obstacle to be overcome. (A classic example is the doll in the second year of Delusion: A Haunted Play, which was traded to "save" the life of an audience member.) In exchange for the bottle, all we got was a seat closer to the séance; the medium simply took the bottle as we entered, and that was the end of it. We were expecting to be called upon to open the bottle and sprinkle it on a demon at a crucial juncture, but no such luck. So really, why bother? (Someone else was given a doll; the result was the same.)
Fallen Saints features solid performances and memorable tableau vivant, such as the silent, sullen ghost who manifests midway through the séance - less a character than an embodiment of sorrow and loss. The limited space and production values are put to good use to evoke the period setting and imbue it with occult atmosphere. But this dispatch "from hell" needs to deliver a little more pandemonium.
Fallen Saints continues at the Actors Group Theatre Fridays and Saturdays in October 8. The address is 2813 W Magnolia Blvd in Burbank, 91505. Performances take place at 7pm, 7:45pm, 8:30pm, 9:15pm, and 10pm. Audience attendance is limited to 30 per performance. Fallen Saints is not recommended for children under 10. Get more info at: fonproductions.com/fallen-saints.
Though clever in concept, this dispatch from hell needs to deliver more pandemonium.
Credits: Written by: Andy Shultz. Produced-Directed: Sebastian Munoz. Featuring: Wyn Harris, Anatol Felsen, Gloria Galvan, Kristen Maxie, Steven Alloway, Tom Jones, Donna Jean Siegel, Michelle Danyn, Adam Shows, Vincent Miller. Lights & Sound: Vincent Miller. Set, Prop & Costume Design: Redetha Deason & Melissa Munoz. Postcard Design & Press Photos: Adam Neubauer