Shrieks, groans, and surprises: Deep Into Darkness promises macabre madness and mostly delivers

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      Written and produced by Laura Carly Miller, Sydney Doberstein, Fraser Larock, and Blaine Anderson. Directed by Laura Carly Miller and Sydney Doberstein. Presented by Third Wheel Productions. At the Cultch on Tuesday, August 13. Continues until August 25

      Edgar Allan Poe is the perfect inspiration for a sprawling, immersive theatre experience, which is exactly what Third Wheel Productions delivers with its new show, Deep Into Darkness. The ambitious production, spread across 20-plus rooms throughout the Cultch, is provocative, compelling, and full of surprises.

      It’s also kind of impossible to review as traditional theatre. There are things happening everywhere all the time, including stairwells, hallways, and the basement—and there’s no way to see everything. As the evening begins, audience members are also given hard white masks that must be worn throughout the show.

      The premise is, loosely, that we’re inside Poe’s troubled mind and several of his most famous stories. Deep Into Darkness gives back what its audience puts into it. Individually, we decide where we want to go and when, as well as how deeply we wish to engage with the sets and props and the vague mystery underlying Deep Into Darkness’s loose story line. I still don’t really know what the mystery was, but I had fun opening drawers and looking for hidden clues, crumpled papers tucked into tree hollows and sketches folded inside old books.

      You might enter a room and stumble on an actor wielding an axe and staring intensely into the woods, or you might follow the loud bangs coming from the tavern and find the Unseelie Faery Queen (Sarah Corrigan) wreaking havoc.

      What I found most incredible were the moments I ended up alone with an actor and how brilliantly that person performed in even the quietest, smallest spaces. One actor was tasked with crying, terrorized in a stairwell for several minutes, and I just stood nearby and marvelled at him. At another point, I ended up in a small dark room filled with plastic doll heads and a chessboard. I was looking through items on a shelf when I felt someone beside me. It was the Faery Queen, wearing a white sheet, staring at me ominously while I tried to maintain eye contact. I was her audience of one, and it was unnerving but also the best.

      The cast members are fully committed to their characters and they do a wonderful job, particularly since most of them don’t have any lines or dialogue to rely on. Laughter and groans, cries and shrieking, moans and other utterances, but that’s it, and the relative silence only adds to the creepiness.

      As much as I hated wearing the white mask—I require glasses and they kept fogging up; also, masks are hot—the effect was undeniable. Deep Into Darkness promises macabre madness and it mostly delivers.

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