Review: The Shadow Space

Halloween 2019 offers more than one opportunity for the haunted to become the haunters. Like Give Up The Ghost, The Shadow Space casts its audience as invisible spirits spying on mortal lives. What's different is that, whereas Give Up The Ghost was a philosophical exploration of each audience member's penchant for mercy or justice, The Shadow Space is an interactive murder-mystery in which participants struggle to solve the crime while their disembodied condition makes handling clues somewhat problematic. After a successful run earlier this year, the play is back, now at a different venue with more puzzles and a new scoring system, which rates "ghosts" according to how many clues they discover.

Despite spooky promotional materials, The Shadow Space is light-hearted fun. Its winking humor contains a self-reflexive element that takes the play almost into meta-territory. The conceit is that you and your fellow ghosts are showing up for a curated haunting, with your hosts guiding your through the evening. Thus, all the usual rigmarole associated with interactive theatre - arriving on time, checking in, learning the rules of engagement - become part of the entertainment. In effect, you're not just attending a murder-mystery that casts as you as a ghost; you're attending a murder-mystery that casts as you as a ghost attending a murder-mystery. Post-modern theorists should be all over this play, but don't let that scare you away from enjoying the production's straightforward entertainment value.

The Shadow Space Halloween Review: Between Two Worlds

You're dead. You have time on your hands - an eternity, in fact - so you might as well find an entertaining diversion, such as haunting. Luckily for you and your fellow earthbound spirits, your hosts at The Shadow Space have picked an ideal house. The occasion is a small get-together with two couples, and the dramatic tension is immediately apparent. At least one affair is going on, and sometime during the evening someone disappears. It's up to you to piece together what happened, based on actions you see, dialogue you hear, and physical evidence your discover.

Did we say physical evidence? As a ghost, sad to say, your ability to interact with the physical world is sadly limited. You cannot walk through walls or even open doors. There are only a few physical objects you can touch, those that are for some reason suspended between the worlds of the living and the dead. These may reveal important information, but you must be careful lest you alarm the suspects, who might see (for example) a book floating through the air, held in your invisible hand. Before moving an object, it's best to distract the living by blowing out a candle or flickering the electric lights (a running gag is that the man of the house has been doing some home improvements, and he's not very good at it, so everyone is quick to blame faulty wiring).

Although The Shadow Space is an interactive play, your actual interactivity with the characters is constrained by your limited ability to affect the physical world. The challenge is to watch, listen, and find those clues that can be handled by the dead. Most of the interaction is with these objects, which may be literal puzzles (puzzle boxes, jigsaw puzzles). Toward the end of the evening you may become less concerned about concealing your presence, dropping items in view of the living in order to gauge their reactions.

Remember: your time haunting this house is limited. Before long, you will need to make an accusation, dropping a damning piece of evidence where it will be seen. If you surmise correctly, the murdered soul will find peace. If not...

The Shadow Space Halloween Review: Deadbeats

Your experience and enjoyment of The Shadow Space will depend to some extent on the role you choose to play. Will you focus on physical clues or on the characters? It is impossible to do everything yourself; this is a group effort, so it's best to arrive early and become acquainted with your fellow haunters. There may be simultaneous conversations in two rooms; while some ghosts are listening to those, others may be searching an empty room for evidence.

With the drama moving ahead at a steady clip, it may be hard to keep up with all the revelations, so share information freely and quickly (the living cannot hear you). Be ready to step in and jump-start a stalled line of inquiry. The search for the killer's identify can be seriously hampered by a ghost holding onto a puzzle he or she cannot solve. Dealing with deadbeats can be a challenge, but perhaps the biggest challenge is not to become so involved in puzzle solving that you lose sight of the story, which builds toward a very intense climax (at least if you correctly identify the culprit).

The Shadow Space Halloween Review: Conclusion

The Shadow Space offers a tight little whodunit performed in relatively confined location that serves as a nice emotional pressure cooker. The performers handle their roles with conviction, even while pretending not to notice the "ghosts" crowded around them.

This intensity is not always enhanced by the interactive aspects of the play, which have the audience searching for clues that are sometimes unnecessary and in one case just silly. Presumably, the abundance of evidence is intended to give every participant something to do, but it pushes The Shadow Space in the direction of an escape room instead of an interactive theatrical experience. That's not a problem if you solve all the puzzles quickly enough to remain engaged in the drama, but if you get bogged down it might not be a bad idea to give up. Solving all the puzzles is not necessary to identify the killer, though it will increase the score your host gives you at the end of the evening.

Perhaps the best thing about The Shadow Space is the giddy charm of its premise, which turns haunting into a strange kind of spectator sport, a diversion the dead pay to enjoy because they're not very good at doing it on their own. You may be hapless haunter and an even worse investigator, but your smiling hosts will do their best to see you get your money's worth from the evening's entertainment.

The Shadow Space Ratings
  • Play and Performance
  • Puzzles and Clues
3

Bottom Line

The Shadow Space provides a melodramatic murder-mystery with a satisfying solution. Unfortunately, we’re not good team players, and we got frustrated with one or two fellow “ghosts,” who held onto puzzles they couldn’t solve, so our rating of the puzzle-solving aspect is graded accordingly. Players with more expertise at escape room-type challenges may enjoy this aspect more thoroughly.

Created by Shelby Bond. Prop, art, and puzzle design by Felicia Rose. Rotating cast: Chelsea Spirito, Andrea Walden, DW McCann, Jenny Curtis, Anastasia Ferguson, Emilie Rimmer, Hong Van, Raquel Woodruff, Sydney Leigh Allen, Samantha Turret, Andrew Ferguson, Christopher Fuentes, Kelly Hutt, Gilbert Roy, Robert Paterno, Derick McAlister, Josh Pritchard.

The Shadow Space continues nightly except Mondays through November 3 at The Hartsock House. The address is 1763 N Gower Street, Hollywood. Get more information at: theshadowspace.com.

Steve Biodrowski, Administrator

A graduate of USC film school, Steve Biodrowski has worked as a film critic, journalist, and editor at Movieline, Premiere, Le Cinephage, The Dark Side., Cinefantastique magazine, Fandom.com, and Cinescape Online. He is currently Managing Editor of Cinefantastique Online and owner-operator of Hollywood Gothique.