Directed by Timothy Haskell
Produced by Psycho Clan
Off Broadway, Escape Room/Immersive Theatre
Runs through 12.31.17
Studio 153, 153 Coffey Street, Brooklyn
by Zachary Conner on 9.27.17
This is Real.
BOTTOM LINE: An extreme escape room centered around being kidnapped by a psycho killer—it begins horrifically strong, but ultimately loses its steam.
Good news New York City extreme experience enthusiasts. From the creators of the Halloween staple Nightmare Haunted House comes a new immersive horror theatrical production called This Is Real.
Ever watch one of those horror films where the main character is knocked out, kidnapped, and discovers upon waking that they're now the puppet at the center of a madman's horrific series of tests? Well, this is about as close as you will get to actually living that story line. While I wasn't knocked out per se, I did venture to a land not often traveled (Red Hook, Brooklyn), where I was blindfolded and stuffed into an oversized jumpsuit, my hands bound behind my back. Along with seven other "victims," I was then shuffled along into my own personal cage to figure out how I got there, what my objective was, and what the heck was going on.
This Is Real begins with great potential. The warehouse location seems lifted straight out of an Eli Roth film. You are given a list of specific rules: anything you encounter might be useful for your escape; you should rely on your fellow captives to survive; and nothing needs to be coaxed with brute force. I was most intrigued by the hint that you might need to physically maneuver your body into various spaces—a very real need that comes up rather quickly.
After witnessing, from your own cell, the demise of one of your fellow prisoners at the hands of the main baddie, your involvement abruptly begins. Trapped in the confines of a single room, it quickly becomes apparent that you must work with your teammates to find clues and solve puzzles in order to unlock the main door at the end of the room. However, instead of simply counting down the clock, as many escape rooms do, you also get periodic visitations from the killer psychopath. If you aren't quick enough to nab a hiding spot (I found myself in a refrigerator, under a couch, and in an air vent), the killer proclaims that one of your lives (you get three, before you are apparently killed off) has been snuffed out before exiting the room, letting your team continue scrambling to reach salvation.
I must admit, after the strong initial launch, I was a bit disappointed to find that This is Real is ultimately just another escape the room. The website suggests a more free-form environment, so I had imagined myself roaming a cavernous space, going in and out of rooms, each with their own challenges, and being faced with increasingly higher stakes—basically, I had expected more variety. Instead, I was met with essentially two rooms, sometimes clunky special effects, and a brutal reliance on teammates too terrified to get anything done themselves. I realize that being a horror movie junkie might have desensitized me a little, but when your marketing is as extreme as what is found on This is Real's website, I can't help but feel I was a little over-promised and under-delivered.
In addition, if your show relies on clues to move the plot forward, strict attention should be paid to where said clues are located, and to the overall logic of how one clue leads to the next. Many times, the object given has absolutely no logical connection to where the next clue will be found. This is frustrating not only because it feels like the show doesn't progress, but it's also sort of unfair that This is Real becomes a waiting game to eventually lose all of your lives as the killer repeatedly returns. What's more, if the production's objective is to scare people, it might help to provide a couple moments of horror between the show's solid beginning and the somewhat messy and confusing finale. I can say with complete conviction that by the end, any initial fear I had was gone, replaced by anxiety over simply finding every clue.
While in need of some rework, This Is Real kept me engaged from start to finish. If attending, realize that you'll get as much from the experience as you put in. I kept my cool, and was ultimately rewarded with having to make a pretty tough call towards the end of the show in order for our group to escape. Audiences seeking extreme terror sustained for a long period may turn up their noses, but for those wanting to push their room escape to the next level, This Is Real might be the dangerous game you are looking for.
Just remember—Don't get caught!
(This Is Real plays at Studio 153, 153 Coffey Street in Red Hook, Brooklyn, through December 31, 2017. The running time is approximately 70 minutes. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7 and 9; Saturdays at 5, 7, and 9; and Sundays at 3, 5, and 7. Tickets are $95 - $110. For tickets and more information, including travel directions, visit thisisreal.nyc.)
This Is Real is produced by Psycho Clan in association with Studio 153. Directed by Timothy Haskell. Fight Choreography is by Rod Kinter. Production Design is by Paul Smithyman. Technical Design is by James Lo. Props by Faye Armon. Costume Design is by Kimberly Matela. Makeup Design is by Anna Chicco.
The cast is Rudy Bamenga, Alejandro Cardozo, Federico Mallet Flores, Millie Gillana, Brandon Marchand, James McClain, Erica Moore, Christopher Morris, Aaron Van Scyoc and Taylor Zito.