Max Berry, Contributing Critic - New York City
Written by EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn and directed by Julia Sears, “The Séance Machine” invites you to join Dr. Carolyn Blau (Lisa C. M. Lamothe) and her two assistants, Dr. Alvarez (Jonathan Cruz ) and Dr. White (Ilana Gabrielle) as they debut their new “séance machine” that is capable of reconstructing sound waves from the past and playing them as if they are still there. Though, what begins as a simple demonstration quickly becomes something far more sinister.
While the second half of “Séance Machine” was a fun and fright-filled adventure, the first half was bogged down in a lot of scientific mumbo jumbo, framed like a presentation of this revolutionary new technology, the play spends far too long explaining and presenting the science that it all began to feel purposeless and unfocused. Much of this scientific exposition could have been given very quickly at the beginning of the show, setting the groundwork for the story and characters and then allowing more room for the scary supernatural portions of the play. It also seemed that since there was so much time spent on the presentation of the new machine that the connections to the supernatural were lost and it was unclear why the things that were happening were happening, as entertaining as it was.
That being said, the ideas that were beginning to be touched on regarding how we experience our past and use it to make a better future were extremely interesting. So much so that I wish we would have spent more time with them. The machine went from one demonstration to the next, allowing for very little time to absorb some of the more disturbing parts of our past and contemplate what to do about them. Dr. Alvarez’s final monologue was a beautifully written (and beautifully acted) response to these ideas and was one of my favorite parts of the show. I would have loved to have seen more time given to exploring these ideas rather than setting up how the machine works.
The doctor’s two assistants were very funny, playing off of the audience and each other very well. Every side comment made was hilarious and one of the best things about the first half of the play. Gabrielle was also quite chilling in her role in the supernatural occurrences at the end of the play. I also enjoyed the reveal of the actual séance machine a funny and unexpected look to what was built up to be such a behemoth of technology.
The show was immersive in the sense that the theater (The Tank) and the ground it stood on played an integral part of the show and the audience was gifted a lab coat to wear for the duration of the performance. But for some reason, I did not feel the same engulfment that I’ve felt with other immersive shows. I was very aware that what I was watching was theatre and I was unsure how I felt about that. Perhaps this was the idea, but just how immersed I was supposed to feel was unclear. One thing that did make me feel more immersed in the experience was the choice to have some of the sounds and voices in the show come from various points in the theater rather than all around. This gave the feeling that something strange really was happening and took certain scenes from slightly scary to really unsettling.
“The Séance Machine” has a fun and frightening second half with some great questions that it’s asking. Though, one just has to wait through the scientific demonstration to get there. Hopefully, in future iterations, the focus will be on where the play does best: asking some great questions and bringing some chilling scares.
“The Séance Machine” was written by EllaRose Chary and Brandon James Gwinn and directed by Julia Sears.
It features Lisa C. M. Lamothe, Jonathan Cruz, and Ilana Gabrielle.
Also the voice talent of: Walter Bolin, A Faulkner, Jennifer Fouche, Christoper Gurr, Allison Posner, Tori Scott, Julia Sears, Anne Fraser Thomas, Anne Troup, Jason Veasey, and Joel Waggoner.
With sound design by Brandon James Gwinn
Scenic and projection design by Susannah Hyde
Lighting Design by Annie Garrett-Larsen
Costume Design by EllaRose Chary/ Brandon James Gwinn
It runs at The Tank (312 W. 36th St, New York NY 10018), Oct 10-31, 2019.