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Theatre Review: The Harvest sends audiences on a hair-raising witch hunt

The Harvest (currently at the Count’s Den in downtown Los Angeles) edges Last Call Theatre further into the horror genre they skirted with their science-fiction efforts: instead of the anomalous humanoid mutants of Signals and The Showroom, the subject this time is witches – and those who seek to destroy them. Set in the isolated village of Windsor Grove, the play depicts what happens when outsiders are invited to attend the annual Harvest Festival for the first time since witchcraft was eradicated a century ago. Officially, the town remains untainted by black magic, but beneath the professed confidence lie submerged doubts and suspicions. Have some residents been practicing their craft in secret?

The Harvest Review
Robin (Elena Scaringe-Peene) is accused of witchcraft. Photo by Charly Charney Cohen

An interactive theatrical production, The Harvest casts you – the audience – as the visitors attending Windsor Grove’s annual festival. As outsiders, you have no part in the town’s dark history, so you can act as impartial observers charged with discoverng who, if anyone, is guilty of witchcraft. In effect, the play is a mystery, and you are the detective. You will determine who is suspected, accused, and possibly executed; the actions you take send the story branching onto paths that lead to multiple potential endings.

The intriguing premise is executed with clever clues and engaging performances, but the interactive element at its heart is a genuine wildcard. Like previous Last Call Theatre productions, The Harvest offers a level of engagement beyond other immersive plays. Passive observation is possible, but active participation is almost essential to truly enjoy the proceedings. Consequently, the level of entertainment depends to some extent on each audience member’s actions. Those eager to play their part should have a great time; the wallflowers may feel left on the sidelines.

The Harvest Review: Hunting Witches

Arriving in Windsor Grove, you are welcomed by Mayor Corey (Preston Grant), who introduces you to the other residents, including Father Gabriel (Vicente De Saintignon), Isaac (Brit Baltazar), and Sheriff Auggie (Evan Wank), among others, and you are advised to pick and follow a character whose interest align with yours in order to have the best chance of following a clear plotline. Much optimism is expressed about the occasion of the town’s first visitors to the Harvest Festival in a hundred years, but as you talk to the characters and perform their requests, doubts start to emerge.

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The first hint that something sinister still lurks in Windsor Grove arrives when the harpsichordist (Darica Louie) somewhat cheekily performs a rendition of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre (not sure how that title was approved for the playlist by Father Gabriel!). The first full-blown manifestation takes place when Martha (Kale Hinthorn) is struck blind during a dance, leading to an accusation lodged against her dance partner Robin (Elena Scaringe-Peene). Martha soon recovers (has the spell been lifted, or was she faking?), but the accusation stands, and now you must find evidence to convict or acquit.

The Harvest Review: Play Your Part

What action you take and what evidence you find depends on the character with whom you align yourself. Father Gabriel, whose idea it was to invite outsiders to the harvest is eager to employ in his efforts to ensure that witchcraft remains extinct within the town. Isaac, a descendant of the last witch executed in Windsor Grove, insists that the official history is filled with lies and apparently keeps up his ancestor’s practices (though whether he would call them “witchcraft” is another matter). And Sheriff Augie is so insistently skeptical on the subject of witches that he comes across as someone nervously denying something he is too afraid to consider.

The Harvest Review
Audience roams the Count’s Den, interacting with characters while searching for clues to identify witches in Windsor Grove.

We learned all of this while carrying out the request of Father Gabriel, who sent us seeking a book relating the history of Windsor Grove. As sometimes happens in Last Call Theatre productions, this was a bit of a narrative cul-de-sac. The various people who had passed the book from one to another had little to say about its contents, and the book itself, when discovered, had only a few relevant pages, mostly relating what we already knew.

Then when we returned the book to Father Gabriel, he brushed us off with a brief thank-you for our efforts. No new quest – just thank you, and that was that. We would have been happy to take our own initiative – but it seemed to contradict the admonition about sticking with one character throughout the show. Why stick around with someone who seems to be done with you? After a brief detour with another character,* we reconnected with Father Gabriel, who finally gave us another task, but by the time we were close to completing it, other events took over, leaving us as spectators more than participants to the grim finale.

This sort of hiccup is not a deal-breaker for us, but it does diminish the impact of the interactive element, which is a key feature of Last Call Theatre’s work. But your mileage may vary, depending on the path you take, which may lead to a completely different ending. For us there was a slight sense of futility, as if despite our efforts we had no impact on the outcome and might as well have remained passive observers.

The Harvest Review
The Influence (Hiro Korsgaard) offers a deal. Photo: Charly Charney Cohen

*Footnote: Ironically, this detour was the best part of the show for us, as we encountered a mysterious, Mephistophelean figure identified only as “The Influence,” who was offering rewards to those lost souls foolish enough to sign their name in his book. And he was interested not only in the inhabitants of Windsor Grove but also the visitors, creating a truly creepy level of interaction as he bartered over what deepest wish he could fulfill in order to convince each supplicant to sign in blood. Perhaps we should revisit The Harvest and spend more time with him.

The Harvest Review: Conclusion

The Harvest is, in a sense, not one play but many. Depending on the path one takes, the experience can be entirely different. This uncertainty is a gambit that can yield an incredible advantage, engaging audience members more intimately than conventional theatre can achieve; when the results payoff, the impact can be profound (as it was for us in Last Call’s Abandoned).

In one of the show’s multiple endings, Father Gabriele prepares to burn Eliza (Ronan Rinzler) at the stake.

The Harvest does not hit that high-water mark for us. It is still entertaining from start to finish, and the ending we saw was effectively horrifying. But we did not have that weird, parasocial-type experience in which you believe not only in the characters but also believe yourself to be one of the characters. Yes, we shared the performance space with the cast, but by the end we felt as if we were sitting in the audience.

Last Call Theatre's The Harvest

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not All Bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

The Harvest reviewThe Harvest is an intriguing mystery-horror story that puts its audience in the role of detective, seeking clues to discover who is or is not a witch. With multiple story paths, side quests, and potential endings, each participant’s experience will be different, so how much fun you have depends on how involved you get. If you’re not the world’s greatest sleuth, you might end up feeling a little lost, but the play remains entertaining, regardless.

A Note of Trivia: The exact time when the story takes place is never specified, but some of the character names recall the Salem Witch Trials.

Production Team: Riley Cole (Director/Associate Producer/Lighting Designer). Elena Scaringe-Peene (Creative Lead/Producer).

Cast: Rena Bobbs (Abigail). Brit Baltazar (Isaac). Vicente De Saintignon (Father Gabriel). Preston Grant (Mayor Corey). Kale Hinthorn (Martha). Hiro Korsgaard (The Influence). Darica Louie (Violet). Ronen Rinzler (Eliza). Elena Scaringe-Peene (Robin). Evan Wank (Auggie).

The Harvest continues at the Count’s Den on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from December 8 through 16, with showtimes at 8pm nightly except on December 9 & 16, with shows at 2pm and 6pm. Update: The run was extended, with two shows added on January 5 & 6. January 6 performance will be followed by a closing night party free to all who have attended performances. Adults-only performances (21 and over) on December 8 and December 15 offer cocktails for purchase. (All proceeds from the bar support the Immersive Art Collective, which provides free arts education to underserved communities and youth.) Tickets start at $50 for general admission and $80 for VIP; the latter include a specialized character background and interaction, plus a scene prior to show’s start. The Count’s Den is located at 1039 S. Olive Street in downtown Los Angeles. You can find more information here.

The Harvest Review: Photogallery


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.