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HHA 2016: Best Halloween Play in Non-Theatrical Setting

Nominees: Delusion, Drama After Dark, Wicked Lit

Immersive theatre in Los Angeles goes back at least to Tamara in the 1980s, but it really crawls out of the woodwork around Halloween time, with theatrical productions stages in real houses, botanical gardens, and even a mortuary. Sometimes these plays include interactive elements, but the key element for inclusion in this category is that they put audiences in a real environment conducive to sustaining a Halloween atmosphere.

This year’s Halloween Haunt Awards nominees are all familiar favorites.  They continue to amaze, earning recognition once again.

Delusion: His Crimson Queen. The interactive theatrical horror experience offered its most story-driven production ever, but that doesn’t mean the stunts and effects were downgraded. In fact, the show was as amazing as ever – and even more so, thanks to the enhanced drama.

Masque of the Red Death at Drama After Dark
Masque of the Red Death at Drama After Dark

Drama After Dark: A Night of Poe and Gorey. Drama After Dark varies only slightly from year to year, changing an actor here or there and perhaps moving a performance to a different location in the Huntington Gardens, and yet the experience for each audience member is almost always different, because of the necessary selection process: there are more performances given than it is possible to sit through during the show’s one-night-only runtime, so it is possible to see a completely different set of mini-plays from one Halloween to the next. Our 2016 experience was the best ever for us; though we didn’t see all our favorites, those we did were more vivid and mesmerizing than ever before, from the humorous absurdity of “Gorey Stories” to the nerve-twitching intensity of “The Tell Tale Heart.”

Wicked Lit (pictured at top). For Halloween 2016, the Wicked Lit Halloween Theatre Festival offered another trilogy of terror wrapped in a campy (pun intended) framing story. The producers grow ever more adept at exploiting the show’s venue, the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery, for maximum atmosphere, and the production values – lighting and special effects – grow more incredible every season. But best of all, Wicked Lit synthesizes a pleasing blend of tones in its three short plays, from the low-tech apparitions of “Anansi and the Demons” to the subtle shivers of “The Shadowy Third” to the sci-fi monstrosities of “From Beyond.”

The Winner: Delusion – His Crimson Queen

delusion-his-crimons-queen-artwork-verticalViewed strictly as a drama, Delusion: His Crimson Queen might come up slightly short; its climax, which reaches for tragic pathos, doesn’t evoke as many sobs as the heartfelt conclusion of, say, “The Shadowy Third” at Wicked Lit. Instead, Delusion: His Crimson Queen relies on its interactive element to supplement the story, casting the audience as protagonists in a search for their missing parents and subjecting them to various ordeals in their quest. Criticizing the play for this (as we almost did in our review) is a bit like criticizing a 3D movie for throwing objects out of the screen – the whole point is to break the invisible barrier between the audience and the play, and the result yields an experience above and beyond the usual theatrical experience. Delusion: A Haunted Play has been a must-see Halloween event since its 2011 debut, but this year was the best yet in our estimation. We enjoyed the interactive elements more than ever, and the increased emphasis on story, though not perfect, got us involved emotionally as well as physically.

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.