Oh to be at Hogwarts now that summer is here!
This is most definitely not Hogwarts. This is not even a side street off of Diagon Alley. This is the Lab II at the Atlas Performing Arts Center and they are trying to stir up some magic. But damned if the wands aren’t wobbly and the crystals are cracked.
The show in question is Séance. You don’t need a pointy hat or the power of divination to guess it is one of “those” shows. And by that I mean a comedy featuring audience participation. Clearly, not every show at Fringe is filled with adult content and f-bombs, and Séance is an example. No bad words or naughty bits, so this is a daffy diversion you could bring even a young child to sample. But, if you are put off by actors imploring you to join them onstage, consider yourself warned.
Borealis Theatre is known for happenings and flash mobs and off-the-cuff shenanigans and this time they found a right proper theatre space to build a down-on-its-luck magic shop, Madame MacGuffin’s Medicinal and Curio Shoppe. The shop is on the verge of closing so audience members are cajoled into looking around the store. As brave theatregoers explore the store, the dotty Madame MacGuffin flits about, courtesy of the gamely loony Annetta Dexter Sawyer. Her assistant is the more grounded Wilhemina, played with gentle conviction by co-writer Pamela Leahigh.
Together MacGuffin and Wilhelmina set the scene: the audience is in for a treat! Not only is the famous psychic, the Crimson Herring, about to perform a special benefit to save the shop, the audience will get to be in on the festivities!
Now let’s pause to observe my use of exclamation points, chosen thusly to convey the enthusiasm with which the actors went about their scene setting and vivid characterizations. Subtlety thy name is missing. I would also like to point out “MacGuffin” and “Crimson [red] Herring” – those grand old tools of the mystery trade are used here for character names and little else. I will not be giving too much away to reveal that the Herring himself is not very in tune with his minimal psychic gifts.
Steve N. Bradford, director and co-author of Séance, plays The Crimson Herring with improvisational skill. To imagine his stage presence, think of the love-child of Henny Youngman and Zach Galifianakis. Bradford certainly has a ball with his banter with the audience. His co-stars are able keep up with the loosey-goosey nature of the event, but they stretch a bit too much for my taste.
by Steve N Bradford and Pamela Leahigh
at Lab II – Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
Details and tickets
As the séance gets underway, what follows is the audience’s chance to not only help vote on who will be called back from the great beyond but the opportunity to join the three actors. There were those who jumped at the chance to get in on the supernatural schtick. A couple of them – from what I could tell they weren’t shills – even added some choice lines and some cogent questions, bringing the three main performers back on track at one point. This may not be the experience of every audience, of course, but I gather the folks of Borealis take such participation and variations in stride and feed off of the spontaneity.
I felt like the 60 minute event was about 30 minutes too long. I kept thinking of those theatre pieces that should have had a themed dinner attached to it – Melon Crystal Balls, Spider Web Spaghetti and Witch’s Brew Punch. Well, I didn’t get any spooky themed food. Just a wonky show that has its moments. If Borealis’ goal was to conjure up a harmless diversion with heavy doses of improvisation and audience interaction, their spell worked.
As for me, I prefer sterner magic. And would rather stay in my seat.