by Edward Medina
The Seance Machine is a troubled production. It never seems to fully understand what it is or what it wants to be let alone what it wants to achieve. It’s billed as immersive theatre but its immersive theatre in its tritest form. Upon arriving at The Tank theatre space we’re led to believe that as an audience we’re about to experience a historic new development in scientific exploration. A device has been invented that will help to listen in to the sounds of the past and in that we’ll learn, well, who really knows what.
In the lobby there’s a promotional video playing that gives a behind the scenes look at the company that has sponsored all this research and development. It’s the first of several missed opportunities that will follow that might have drawn us into the experience had it been done well. As you’re led into the theatre you’re given a lab coat to wear. A superficial addition that ultimately serves no real purpose other than to play dress up. It’s a stretch to recall any Ted Talks one has been to where the audience was dressed up like the person doing the presenting. By the way the lab coats, if you really want one, are on sale in the lobby for ten dollars. Yes. They really are.
Once this demonstration begins you’re introduced to Dr. John Alvarez, played by Jonathan Cruz, and Dr. Gabby White, played by Ilana Gabrielle, they are research assistants to Dr. Carolyn Blau, played by Lisa C.M. Lamothe, who is the inventor of the Mechanical Wave Reassembly Hypercardioid Sequencing Model. Quite a mouthful for a device your supposed to believe is real but sounds completely made up. Suffice it to say that this presentation of course goes horribly wrong but only after several long and boring repetitive demonstrations of what the device can sort of do. Again, parts of this could’ve been clever, a moment or two of this did appear promising, but writers EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn needed someone to rebuild the first half of what feels like a rough draft script.
When things do finally start to go wrong The Seance Machine begins to become interesting and in places it delivers some genuine scares. The trouble is that once it does not, too many people in the audience care or understand what’s happening. Many lab coats were removed as the heat in the space rose, many wandering eyes were searching the theatre for an exit, there was also a lot of yawning. It’s a pity too because the three actors were working hard to make all of this work and they might have completely succeeded if they hadn’t been abandoned by their director Julia Sears. Someone above the line in this production needed to step in, take a step back, and ultimately save what could have been a fascinating romp of scares and technical wizardry. All these scientists need to go back to the drawing board and try this one again because the biggest scare of the night shouldn’t be the thought of who would want to buy and take home a lab coat after seeing a bloody nightmare like this occur.
The Séance Machine – The Tank 312 W 36th St, New York
Run Time: 60 minutes – played through Oct 31, 2019