Joe Conway blindfolds a patron


By Samuel L. Leiter


Halloween is around the corner. That makes this the moment when producers of movies, TV shows, and immersive theatrical productions rack their oozing brains for shards of psychological sadism with which to frighten willing masochists into spasms of pleasurable agony.

An example of the live action niche of this array of spooky spectacles is I Can’t See, inspired by a classic ghost story I’ve never read, W.W. Jacobs’s “The Toll House.” According to a summary you can read here, it’s as good an example as any to excite your goosebumps and elevate your follicles. It lasts around 45 minutes but, at least as incorporated here, it’s about as scary as a bag of toll house cookies.

Created by Timothy Haskell and Paul Smithyman, original members of Psycho Clan, a company devoted to shows designed to scare the bejesus out of you, I Can’t See is presented in an ambiguous space behind black doors immediately next to the Marriott Courtyard Hotel, directly across from Ground Zero. It was the first cool night of the year when I went, but the “audience” had to wait outside before being admitted to the lobby where the “Optecs” team, dressed in white lab coats, waited to assist.

The following is a brief description describing the event’s parameters but not its specific details, which would—for those intending to “see” it—require unfair spoilers. Note, by the way, that each “performance”—five a night—lasts around 45 minutes, with only a small number of participants at each. Around a half-dozen took part when I attended.

You’re first asked to read a laminated list of rules and reassurances regarding what’s going to follow. You then sign a waiver releasing the show from responsibility in the event of an unpleasant experience. You’re then attended individually by one or two of the lab-coated folks, who reiterate the instructions as they double-blindfold you and provide you with large headphones attached to a small radio unit placed somewhere on your person (like a pants pocket).

You’re also asked to swallow a pill (a tiny, sour candy) and something is stuck to the back of your neck as if to download information into your skull. (Two hours later, while at a conventional play, I noticed it was still there—a small paper circle—and peeled it off.)

Now in total blindness, you hear only the softly spoken instructions on the headphones, as well as various sound effects and the conversation of voices meant to suggest a group of friends, who use your actual name. You’re gently led along a twisty pathway, either by a minder touching your hand or shoulder, or by your holding on to a rope or wooden railing, referred to as “umbilicals.” The intention is to make you feel you and your friends are visiting an amusement park, followed by one to a haunted house. You’ll even feel frequent pats of approval or support in reaction to the narrative.

Unable to see anything, you progress carefully so as not to trip as you encounter a number of tactile (including dripping water) and auditory effects, designed to give you the willies. Even the ground beneath your feet may feel odd. At a few moments you may believe you’re standing in a void, feeling abandoned, but your minder arrives to calmly move you to a new position.

Everyone involved is sweet, the guiding hands are soft (at least mine were), and the overall experience, for all its intentions, is less chilly than the weather outside. Unless you’re claustrophobic—which is entirely possible and potentially terrifying—you, like me, may find I Can’t See more quietly amusing than soil-your-pants creepy. Not quite the desired effect, I’d say.

I’m still not sure whether I did something wrong at the end because I received a card saying I was dead, meaning the show for me was over. Participants are warned several times not to die. Apparently, though, I did. Could it be I’m not now writing this and that you’re not reading it? I can’t say because, as you may have guessed, I can’t see.


I Can’t See

133 Greenwich St., NYC

Through November 3