Hollywood Gothique
Interactive Plays & Immersive ExperiencesLA Theatre Gothique

Stage Review: The Willows

The Willows provides an un unforgettable evening of murder and mayhem.

Just Fix It Productions, the makers of the endlessly creative Halloween haunt Creep LA, bring back their twisted immersive family drama The Willows for a third year. starting its run this Friday on September 15. Light on jump scares and traditional haunted house spookiness, The Willows concentrates instead on psychological horror, choosing to disturb rather than to startle or shock.

The Willows is housed in a two story mansion. and the macabre events that take place over its two hour length include a light dinner, some drinks, a house filled with secrets, and endless interactions with a delightfully superb cast of awful, awful people. As in New York’s influential piece of interactive theatre, Sleep No More, guests are crowded into a singular location with twenty or so fellow participants. Unlike Sleep No More, we are not given free reign to wander as we choose throughout the house. With the exception of one choice we make early in the proceedings, we are dutifully led from interaction to interaction by our demented hosts while bizarre events unfold before us.  It’s a delightful slow burn, but events do escalate, ramping up to a crazed climax. The result is an evening of murder and chaotic mayhem you won’t soon forget.

The Willows 2023 Review: The Plot

We first arrive at the mansion as friends of the Willows family, who are seemingly mourning the recent death of their adult son Jonathan. After the butler hands us some punch (with the alcoholic implements to spike it if we so choose), we meet the weird, grieving family:  Claudia, the alcoholic widow; Conrad, the goofy adult son caught in a stage of arrested development; Angela the brooding sister; Richard, the gun toting salesman with a penchant for panty hose; Rosemary the domineering matriarch; Deirdre the maid; and Lindsay the secretive butler. We don’t have too much time to invest ourselves in the party as Rosemary Willows calls us to a dinner party where we are served a light meal of wine, appetizers, salad, and soup while we interact with the Willows clan.  Think Tony and Tina’s Wedding meets The Adams Family. From this point forward, the proceedings get strange as the family dynamics move from the periphery to the fore, and elements of the house’s mysteries come into view.

The Willows immersive review
Dining with the Willows family

The Willows attempts a high wire balancing act of telling a macabre story to a group of twenty people while simultaneously engaging the participants individually. It is at its most successful when it relies on the improvisational skills of its actors.  Standouts include Jacob Miller’s perversely damaged child man, Deirdre Lyons’ perennially beleaguered servant, and Misha Reeves channeling an alcoholic mid-Atlantic Katherine Hepburn. It should be noted there isn’t a weak link among the universally talented cast.  The Willows, however, falters a bit when attempting to  hold the attention of its guests by forcing participation through the use of introductions, board games, and other group activities. In these banal moments, there is a feeling of FOMO and a belief that more interesting things are going on in other parts of the house, judging by the distant screams and sounds of chaos.

Creator Justin Fix’s story is another standout. The house holds mysteries which invite repeat viewings in order to figure out exactly what is going on and how the various characters fit into the insanity. The Willows feeds its secrets to its guests sparingly, dividing the group amongst individual Willows family members so we may learn about their stories in detail. Though this choreographed division avoids the chaotic bottlenecks of Sleep No More, it has the unintended effect of occasionally leaving one trapped in a storyline with no ability to find a more interesting character elsewhere.

The Willows 2023 Review: Conclusion

The Willows is a unique entry in the Los Angeles Halloween haunt scene. It eschews jump scares for an unapologetic atmosphere of unease. It’s like jumping into a David Lynch movie. It shines in its quiet moments and details: Claudia’s dinner table catatonia, a perverse nude drawing found in Conrad’s room,  a working phone number on a business card handed to guests by Richard, the panty hose salesman. Though it is less successful when it attempts to hold the attention of its guests, it is engaging throughout and keeps us guessing as to wtf is going on to the bitter end.

The Willows review
Domineering matriarch Rosemary runs the Willows clan while the masked salesman Richard lurks behind her.

Finally, it should be noted that this show is, for all intents and purposes, the same show that premiered several years ago.  Not much has changed.  However, different storylines can be experienced by returning to the mansion and simply sitting at a different spot at the dinner table.

The Willows (2023 production)

Rating Scale

1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See

Armed with an expert cast of improvisational weirdos and a bizarre tale of familial grief, The Willows proves that Just Fix It Productions is indeed the weirdest of them all.

The Willows opens on Friday, September 15 and runs through November 19. Update: Wednesday shows were recently added for November 8 & 15. Performances take place Fridays through Sundays in September; Thursdays through Sunday in October, plus Wednesday the 18th and 25; and Thursdays through Sundays in November. Start times at 6:30pm and 9:30pm; arrival time is ten minutes before. Later Update: Additional performances have been added on November 29-30 and December 1 & 3. Dress Code is casual cocktail; wear comfortable shoes. Admission is restricted to those 21 and over. Tickets are $200; the show will sell out. The address is 1130 Westchester Place Los Angeles, CA 90019. Get more information on the show at thewillowsla.com. Get more information on Just Fix It Productions at jfiproductions.com.

The Willows Review: Photo Gallery

Note: These actors were not performing on the night Hollywood Gothique attended.