Cat Killer is an innovative, immersive experience

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      Created by Kim Selody and Winfried Wrede. Live theatre directed by Kim Selody. Video directed by Winfried Wrede. Produced by Presentation House Theatre and Theater Wrede+. At Presentation House on Thursday, March 5. Continues until March 15

      Cool! Cat Killer is a trip.

      It riffs on a news item: over 20 years ago, in Ottawa, more than 400 cats went missing over a three-month period.

      In Cat Killer, which is being coproduced by North Vancouver’s Presentation House Theatre and Germany’s Theater Wrede+, exploring the story becomes an immersive experience. At staggered intervals, audience members set off in groups of three and investigate areas in and around Presentation House. You’re guided by a voice on your headset and by a handheld camera that’s about the size of a phone. The idea is that you match up what you’re seeing on your camera with what you’re seeing in real life. So if the image on your device indicates that you’re walking down a hallway, that’s what you do.

      As an audience member used to much more passive forms of theatre, I found it anxiety-provoking—and exciting—to have this demand placed on me. (Everybody in my group got turned around at times, but cast members guided us back on track.)

      Like its form, the content of Cat Killer explores the relationship between physical and virtual realities. In the story, Theresa’s cat has disappeared. As she puts up lost-pet posters, we meet Lorne, a young guy who’s creating some kind of video game and who may have creepy designs on Theresa. And then there’s Theresa’s dad, Dr. Haber, who is experimenting on cats as a way of researching the sociopathic behaviour that he thinks virtual realities push us toward.

      Frankly, I didn’t have much time to contemplate the show’s themes; I was too damn busy figuring out where to go. More spaciousness in the experience might help.
      Still, there’s some cool stuff. There’s a car: I won’t say any more about that, but it’s fun. And in the most sophisticated moment, a woman in the video brushed past me on a set of stairs and the sound in my headset made me look to see if she was really there. I could have used a lot more of that kind of disorienting overlap.

      In the variable cast, I particularly enjoyed Tom McBeath (Dr. Haber), who’s a pro, and Steven Masson (Lorne), one of the students seconded from Capilano University.

      Although the script asks for audience response at some points, those responses have no impact on the progression of the plot, which is disappointing. And the resolution, when it comes, lurches in from left field: in a mystery, that’s a total cheat.

      Still, the logistical accomplishment of running a show like this is huge. And although it’s not completely original—installation artist Janet Cardiff has been doing audio walks for decades, and, locally, the Virtual Stage’s zombie plays are immersive promenades—Cat Killer is innovative and fun. Big thanks to Kim Selody, artistic director at Presentation House Theatre, for pushing the envelope with this international copro.