The phenomenon of removing the fourth wall, allowing the audience and performers to move around in one hybrid reality-dream world, has exploded in places like London and New York. Co-created by Spencer Williams, Wai Yim, and Sebastiani Romagnolo, and co-produced with Bill Grennan, “Walk the Night” brings this experience to Omaha, striking the perfect balance between complexity and accessibility for an audience that may or may not have seen this sort of thing yet. Its haunting, non-linear presentation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is inspired by Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” in its play on multiple perspectives, disjoined by time and space while unified by the play’s major events.
As you enter the venue — a house at 3837 Cuming Street, which is an impressive relic of history and character in and of itself — you’ll be asked to put on a mask, which ostensibly serves to create anonymity and removes self-consciousness. Throughout the play, you are able to choose the lens through which you view the narrative, as you decide which character(s) to follow throughout the house. This process creates a sensation for the audience that we are the voyeuristic ghosts, rather than the ghost-characters in the play. You’ll find yourself literally running up stairs, chasing after threads of the narrative while at other moments, you’ll cede agency and allow members of the ensemble to guide and invite you into intimate moments.
This type of theater is not only a challenge for the audience, but for the actors as well. The physical closeness of the audience demands a type of performance that, as explained by choreographers Sebastiani Romagnolo and Wai Yim, involves a very high level of subtlety, honesty, and concentration. The sheer athleticism in some of the scenes, as Shakespeare’s language is abstracted into the moving human form, makes for an especially heightened emotional experience. And, the soundscape (a product of the creative team and Bill Grennan’s efforts), which can be described as a bricolage of era-specific music interwoven with surreal modern day sound effects, creates a haunting atmosphere. Through beautifully choreographed speech, movement, sound, and dance, the ensemble saturates the house with such an emotive presence, that you feel you have been absorbed into another world.
Given the novelty of this type of theater in Omaha, it is worth it to begin a discussion about what is gained and what is lost in removing the traditional rituals of proscenium-style theater. What is gained, certainly, is a uniquely individualized experience of a story, where choice and preference interact with an orchestrated theater environment. Without the expected structure, we open ourselves up to surprise and discomfort, which arguably primes us for a fresh emotional and intellectual experience. But I think there might be something lost too: that sense of communal, shared experience that is had when a director artistically ushers the audience into his or her world, allowing you to drift away from yourself. In its extreme form, immersive theater replicates our own worlds, solidifying our lenses, and confirming our preconceived notions. But maybe this is itself a sociological commentary on the direction we are heading culturally, with the vast expanse of information at our disposal, available and retrievable at our request. We think we’re in for surprises this way, but how surprised can we really be when we are the curators of our own worlds?
For those of you who will attend, here are some recommendations: go to this play with one or more friends, but split up once you’re in the house so that each of you can have your own personalized experience. There are also several scenes that happen simultaneously, some of which bring forward characters and events that were not fully fleshed out in the text. Few spaces in the house are off-limits and there are many strange and delightful details found in corners, nooks, and closets. A friend, with whom I attended a preview show, raved about the Rosencrats and Guildenstern death scene. I recommend you seek out Ophilia’s death. And if you miss it the first time, go to the performance again, because — oh my god — a day later and I am still in the shadows of that scene.
“Walk the Night” • October 15-November 1 • 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., Wed.-Sat. • $20 • Performances take place at 3837 Cuming Street
Ensemble includes: Echelle Childers, Josh Doucette, Aaron Ellis, Teri Fender, Bill Grennan, John Hatcher, Matt Karasek, Kristin Lubbert, Andre McGraw, Dana Ryan, Regina Palmer, Sebastiani Romagnolo, Olivia Sather, Vernon Wheeler.