You’ll be given a black mask as you enter the Burton Taylor Studio, but don’t expect to be able to hide behind it. You will be interrogated, glowered at, and accused by a Hypnotist, Doctor, Ventriloquist, Fortune-Teller, and Bride. All five are hiding dark secrets, though I couldn’t tell you what they are.
The staging is innovative, in that there is no stage or area for the audience to sit. Instead, there is a table in each corner of the room, and you are invited to explore more or less as you see fit. The freedom to wander is a nice touch, since it enables the audience to personalize their experience. Midnight at the Rue Morgue does not allow its audience any comforting separation between actors and audience, and I found myself wondering at points if my fellow masked watchers were really cast members in disguise.
The play’s main shortcoming is that it begins with intense energy and confusion, and it stays there. There is not much narrative to hold onto, and the stories seem to plateau fairly early on. The majority of the play is performed twice, which allows the audience to explore the sections they might have missed the first time around and re-evaluate the five characters. This performance strategy has a lot of potential, and the second time around did have the benefit of everyone being much sweatier, since the BT is bound to get hot with that many audience members, not to mention the casts’ frenetic activities. The heat and the sweat added even more to the intense, nightmarish atmosphere, but the stories needed a bit more of a push to make this repetition really work. The actors certainly give it their all, but their boundless energy is squandered on a lack of story. There is a lot of slamming of hands and feet and writhing on tables, but I wished I knew why.
The Doctor and the Ventriloquist both stand out, since the actors are able to emote their characters’ psychoses without overdoing it. They also have the most interesting props; the ventriloquist has a creepy doll – isn’t everything creepier with a doll? – with a relentless gaze which reminds the audience that they too are relentless watchers, trying to puzzle out what characters are hiding. The doctor’s table has various medical curiosities, such as a skeleton, a set of fake teeth, a microscope, and a small brain model, all objects that try to get at what is lurking beneath our skin. Midnight at the Rue Morgue has many great touches, but ultimately it fails to go beyond the superficial. Still, if you’re interested in experimental, immersive theatre, then this play is for you—it’s certainly a unique, memorable experience.
PHOTO / Midnight at the Rue Morgue