Lovers of the new, the weird and the wonderful, take note: everything you’re looking for is in Baltimore, at Submersive Productions’ fantastical new piece, H.T. Darling’s Incredible Musaeum Presents: The Treasures of New Galapagos.
Submersive, an artist collaborative, specializes in bringing theatric experiences to unusual and underused public spaces. Hence this production, set in a never-never Victorian wonderland, uses the Peale Center of Baltimore as its springboard to the ‘opening’ of H.T Darling’s Museaum.
Upon entering, I was offered an elegant gilded placard bearing the names of characters. I chose to be Madame Fortescue- no background given, but she sounded exotic enough to be fun; my son chose to be Captain Guy Dollman, and entering into the spirit of things, made up his own background as he went along. With this production, you aren’t just a spectator, you become part of the piece itself, and the more you give, the more you receive. Going with an open mind will open many doors.
This is a rich phantasmagorical journey to a planet of wonders- some rooms represent the Musaeum proper, some are caves (really, caves), some a gauzy otherworld, others a polar expanse. The scenery and props are really rather amazing, and integral to the piece and to the place; it’s hard to imagine this being staged anywhere other than the Peale Center.
Inhabiting these spheres are H.T Darling and his crew of intrepid explorers. As costumed by Stephanie Parks, even they are of indeterminate origin: some look quaintly Victorian, some are dressed right out of an episode of Dr Who. I was particularly mesmerized by one character- you wouldn’t think a man in a bustle skirt would look just right, but he does; it’s a grand mishmash of vaguely priestly robes and the kind of thing you would wear if you were an exotic servant brought back from the far reaches of an expedition. And HT Darling’s costume is just perfect- a dashing Jules Verne captain mixed with a preening Louis XIV.
There’s a plot, but in following various characters around the rooms, you might miss at least a few plot points. It doesn’t really matter, for plot is less the point here. ‘Immersive theatre’ doesn’t do this piece justice: it’s part rollercoaster ride, part alternative history, part allegory on colonialism and exploitation of indigenous peoples. And it’s all parts fun.
If I’m being vague about what the experience itself actually is, it’s partly that it will be different for every person who goes to the show. On the advice of someone familiar with immersive theatre, my son and I split up for much of the performance, and that decision paid off: after the show, we compared notes and discussed various scenes that each of us had missed. We were fortunate enough to witness several together; in particular, one character, as played by Alex Vernon, gets sprayed with venom as he demonstrates a tiny creature brought back from New Galapagos. Mr. Vernon slowly goes numb and dissolves into a quivering pile of goo, then staggers from the room. It’s bloody hysterical. Try not to miss it.
And try not to miss any of the monumentally good puppetry, develop with the help of a special grant from the Jim Henson Foundation: there are some real pieces of art here. A glowing, celestial being hums its benevolent blessing on a select few, but attacks with speed when an explorer endeavors to ‘collect’ it for the Musaeum; tiny creatures in cages come alive as you pass, and an intensely touching miniature marionette show gives us the history of the planet’s Ice Age extinctions.
H.T. Darling’s Incredible Musaeum Presents: The Treasures of New Galapagos
closes April 30, 2016
Details and tickets
If you’re lucky, a cast member will take you aside for a scene with your character. As Madame Fortescue, I was asked about my recent experiences as a nurse in the Spanish war, and queried about some unusual medical symptoms involving crystals. But, I had to turn down H.T. Darling’s marriage proposal.
Tempting offer, though.
I can’t really tell you more without spoiling the fun. But I’m telling you, go if you can. And if you can’t make it? Tell your friends to go. They’ll thank you. But then you’ll wish you’d gone. So skip the regret part of this and just… go.
HT Darling’s Incredible Musaeum Presents: The Treasures of New Galapagos . Conceptualized by Lisi Stoessel . Directors: Glenn Ricci, Lisi Stoessel, Susan Stroupe . Cast: Francisco Benavides, David Brasington, Emily Hall, Martha Robichaud, Trustina Sabah, Lisi Stoessel, Sarah Olmsted Thomas and Alex Vernon. Museum guards: Josh Aterovis, Caitlin Bouxsein, E’Tona Ford .
Artists, Set and Puppet Fabricators: Lisi Stoessel, Ursula Marcum, Samantha Kuczynski, Alessandra Torres, Francisco Benavides, Jess Rassp, Alex Vernon, Brook Tobey, Jack Higgins, Laure Drogoul, Jonathan Latiano, Robert Marbury, Lynne Parks, Chris Siron, James Taylor . Sound Designer: Glenn Ricci . Lighting Designer: James Johnson . Costume Designers: Stephanie Parks, Ben Kress . Props Master: Ursula Marcum . Movement Coach: Dody DiSanto . Stage Manager: Brad Norris . Assistant Stage Manager: E’Tona Ford. Produced by: Submersive Productions . Submersive Artistic Directors: Ursula Marcum, Glenn Ricci . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.