By the members of Linked Dance Theatre; Directed by Jordan Chlapecka
Produced by Linked Dance Theatre
Off Broadway, Immersive Theatre
Runs through 5.19.18
The Center at West Park, 165 West 86th Street
by Asya Danilova on 5.14.18
Chloe Markewich and the audience in Beloved/Departed. Photo by Russ Rowland.
BOTTOM LINE: Linked Dance Theatre combines dance, song, and audience interaction in their immersive take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In fairytales, the wedding is the culmination of the love story. In Beloved/Departed, the wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice is just the beginning of a night of dreadful events, perhaps familiar from the ancient Greek myth. Make sure your "semi-formal relaxed spring wedding" attire is comfortable enough to travel from Olympus to the Underworld, as this two-hour immersive experience takes place on multiple levels of a spacious West Park Presbyterian Church.
Upon entering, audience members get to choose between the bride’s and the groom’s side, in effect following one of two main storylines throughout the night. I attended as a guest of the bride and experienced a closely recreated, awkward social situation at the beginning: a fashionably delayed ceremony followed by a reception where you don’t know anybody. The entire affair looks like it could be a real wedding of Manhattan’s artistic elite, thanks to the thoughtful scenic design by Cheyenne Sykes.
The cocktails (alcoholic and non), lovely buffet of snacks, and mingling with gods helps to kill time during the somewhat lengthy reception scene. The Greek gods and their complicated relationships are introduced through dance, song, spoken word, and interactions with the audience. Aphrodite (the radiant Rita McCann) swirls around making sure everybody is entertained. Hymen, the god of marriage (Matt Engle, memorably doubling as Charon), nervously sips from his flask sensing the approaching disaster. Hermes (the springy Maya Gonzalez), Artemis (the gloomy Kellyn Thornburg) and Apollo (the smug Calvin Tsang), all try to mask their reservations regarding this marriage between a deity and a mortal nymph. As it turns out, Eurydice herself has doubts, which leads her to run away and the audience to follow the forked journey.
The choreography is undoubtedly the strongest element of this production and the most successful scenes of Beloved/Departed are dance-based. Performances by Jordan Chlapecka (Hades, also the director of the piece), Chloe Markewich (Persephone), and Kendra Slack (Eurydice) are comparable to those in Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More or Third Rail Projects’ Then She Fell in their skillfulness and emotional charge. Their scenes masterfully utilize the church's spaces: the chapel becomes a trippy nightclub-like purgatory, and the chilly basement becomes an Underworld where a utility sink is Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. Even if the walls were stripped of their foil and garbage bags, the spaces would be fully transformed by the performance itself.
Brendan Littlefield's sound design and original music rounds off the experience, presenting us with a well-balanced combination of pre-recorded ambient music, classical string quartet pieces, and the bone-chilling screeching of a violin. As the audience descends from Olympus to the kingdom of the dead, the musical style changes gradually, greatly contributing to the atmosphere.
Yet while certainly a memorable experience, Beloved/Departed lacks cohesiveness due to some imbalances. Much of the dialogue is naively direct and self-explanatory, yet there is also Persephone’s precious monologue, performed in front of three audience members in her dressing chamber. The meditative choreography and poetic self-reflection make this one of the most successful scenes in the show. Orpheus (Joshua James) performs a few lyrical songs, but they lack originality and the alleged power that could claim mortals, gods, and inanimate objects alike.
Beloved/Departed is an ambitious project occupying a vast, labyrinth-like space. The match between the show and venue is uncanny. The Center at West Park, occupying a shabby church building, itself has character, and is further enhanced by bottles glowing with lights on the staircases and the speckling of beads on various surfaces. I attended the show on a rainy night, so additional sound effects were appropriately provided by nature. The sense of adventure is something that not every immersive theater venue has to offer; Linked Dance Theatre certainly hit the jackpot here.
(Beloved/Departed plays at The Center at West Park, 165 West 86th Street, through May 18, 2018. The running time is 2 hours with no intermission. Performances and Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8. Tickets are $45 general admission, $75 premium (bridesmaid or groomsman) and are available at linkeddancetheatre.com.)
Beloved/Departed is created by Linked Dance Theatre. Directed by Jordan Chlapecka. Lighting and Scenic Design by Cheyenne Sykes. Costume Design by Nicholas Smith. Original Music by Brendan Littlefield. Stage Managed by Cati Pishal.
The cast is Josh James, Kendra Slack, Kellyn Thornburg, Calvin Tsang, Maya Gonzalez, Jordan Chlapecka, Chloe Markewich, Rita McCann, Matt Engle, and Oliver “Tillett” Burke.