This is a review which I could have never imagined I’d be writing. I’m a huge fan of the Delusion brand, and the truth is it’s been one of the key reasons I travel from Florida to California each year. It’s always that good.
Play your part.
Delusion’s mantra has always been to whisk audience members away from their typically passive roles in a show, transforming them into active participants who not only play a part in the tale as it unfolds before them, but can impact its outcome.
This year, Delusion promised an all new, original, interactive storyline will transform audiences into the children of Selene & Berke Sullivan as they are called upon by their father to navigate their way through 1930s prohibition era, on a dark and dangerous journey uncovering their mother’s twisted past with the supernatural.
The promise of playing your part is nothing new to the Delusion brand – in fact it’s the very foundation onto which the brand itself has grown and flourished in its four prior years. The simple truth is in the past, you as an audience member get from Delusion what you as a willing participant put into Delusion. It could mean the difference between a fantastically chilling show, and an unforgettable live action adventure unlike any other.
In short, even the worst experience in Delusion’s past years would make for one of the coolest shows you’re ever likely to see – but the best experience would be one that would stay strong in your memories for the remainder of your days.
Sadly, and disappointingly, Delusion’s fifth outing teaches us a lesson not a one of us ever hoped to learn: even the undisputed leader of immersive horror-based theater isn’t perfect, and even the brand we hold to the highest regard, thanks to its proven track record of being simply the best of the best examples of interactive theater can have an ‘off year,’
and that ‘off year’ has a name: His Crimson Queen.
Walking up the steps to the elegant old mansion – an actual authentic piece of Los Angeles history, a relic from Hollywood’s golden age, we all turned to each other and shot enthusiastic, silent glances back and forth – because words were not even necessary. We all knew what each of us was thinking,
“Oh my god, it’s finally time to enter Delusion!”
The excitement was palpable. There’s something about walking into a new Delusion production – the unknown, the opportunities, the potential – that is just simply unmatched by anything I’ve ever experienced in the world of theater. Delusion is magical, and finally, after two long years of waiting, it’s about to begin.
I’m stressing all of this, to be clear, to paint a picture to you that you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger supporter of the Delusion brand than me. Everything about this production is what I look for in entertainment. It’s dark. It’s sinister. It’s suspenseful. It’s the most interactive, most immersive production I’ve ever seen. It allows me to not only enter its storyworld, but thrive in it, exist in it and perform in it.
As prior stated, it could not be more true that you get from Delusion what you are willing to put into Delusion. To be crystal clear, I was prepared, eager and excited to give Delusion every fiber of my being for the hour that would follow. I wanted to be enveloped into its world. I wanted to participate. I wanted to believe.
However, on this night, in this year, Delusion just did not want to let me.
The experience began with a preshow, which was, perhaps in hindsight our first indication that His Crimson Queen might be far from Delusion’s grandest efforts. Taking place in a curtained off area on the back porch of the manor, we were greeted by a character who seemed to have no connection to the remainder of the show, beyond simply reciting to us scripted dialogue in the form of its backstory.
The preshow, simply put, was awful. It went on for far too long and just wasn’t remotely compelling. Something that should have gotten us pumped up to enter the house -and subsequently the world created for the show left us flat. It literally created the exact opposite emotions than it should have set out to do.
This moment was also the first moment of realization that much of this year’s show would desperately attempt to embrace some sort of odd comic relief, which was neither humorous nor fitting to the storyworld in any way. Had you told me a year ago that the opening monologue of a Delusion production would have more jokes about the looks of our “asses” than compelling story build to set the mood, I’d call you crazy.
Well, you’re not crazy. But I’m still not sure I’m comfortable with Delusion taking such notice of my backside.
That preshow monologue became an endurance test for our group. We each confided later that one by one, we promised ourselves that “if we can just get through this, we’ll be inside the house and something really incredible will happen.”
Somehow, we did get through it, and finally, we got our chance to step foot inside the house itself. Sadly, from that moment forward, we were subjected to scene after seen of basically nothing but exposition that never climaxed. Lots and lots and lots of long-winded monologues by the characters we encountered quickly made us realize that for the first time in the world of Delusion, we were no longer active participants. We had no true or impactful part to play.
For the first time, Delusion’s fifth show was much more about itself than its audience.
That statement in and of itself is a terribly disappointing realization to reach for a show that so heavily strives to take guests into its world and give them vital roles within it. But now, at least as is the case with His Crimson Queen, not anymore.
This “everyone look at me” mentality is admittedly bad even standing on its own, but actually is made worse when being subjected to it by a massive cast of characters all so non-compelling that even moments after exiting, I basically couldn’t tell you a single one of their names or backstories. The simple truth is I could talk to you at length about every major story beat and every major character encountered in my first year of Delusion – 2013’s Masque of Mortality. That show made a true theatrical impact on me like no other. I could recap 2014’s Lies Within from start to finish, and still get excited thinking about how it unfolded.
Barely days removed from 2016’s His Crimson Queen already finds the experience, just like the performance it provided us, melting away into obscurity.
Avoiding any spoilers, but to paint a picture of the level of audience interaction, the premise of His Crimson Queen is that we are the children of vampire parents with supernatural abilities. Sadly, and honestly, embarrassingly, the extent of the majority of our active interactions in His Crimson Queen simply involved being asked by actor after actor who are parents were – which came across as more of an awkward elementary school pop quiz than a compelling moment of dramatic horror – and then holding our hands out and literally pretending that we’re shooting magic power out of them. No lighting effects to give that impression – no physical effects of wind or fog, no sound effects. Literally just our imagination and our terribly awkward outstretched hands.
The magic of Delusion in past years was that it managed to exist in real world spaces – actual historic buildings that have sat long abandoned, only to be artfully transformed as not just a part of this new storyworld, but almost a main character within it. Scenically, the interior of His Crimson Queen wasn’t even close to on par of that of past Delusion years. It felt thrown together quickly, with little regard for creating a truly authentic environment.
The show was completely devoid of heart, and had even less suspense. The characters we encountered were not compelling, leaving us honestly uninterested in even learning more about them or seeing what would come of them.
nothing we could do, no amount of attempting to play our part and become engaged was the solution for His Crimson Queen’s fundamental scripting and design flaws.
Being our third Delusion, we were well versed in the sensational psychological terror prior years invoked – creating a sense of artistic fear that left even the biggest haunt fans of our group – myself included – nervous to open doors and round corners. Sadly, that feeling doesn’t exist any longer – at least not within the confines of His Crimson Queen. There was not one single frightful moment in this year’s show. And while it’s key to stress Delusion does not exist solely to create moments of fear, those moments have always been artistically woven into the fabric of its over-arcing story in such a natural way that not having them anymore feels noticeably out of place.
The stunts, in prior years, were what really set Delusion apart. This year’s stunts truthfully felt watered down – much smaller scale moments that were so obvious that it was difficult to be surprised by them eventually playing out before you. I want to be clear- that degree of obvious has nothing to do with the fact that our group are mostly made up of Delusion veterans – but the fact that literally no effort was made to mask the stunt rigging in place to operate them. Wires and cables hang in plain sight, sticking out like a sore thumb in a room where a character is set to fly or blast away from you. No prior year of this show has had such sloppy presentation and integration of stunt equipment.
I’m truly only holding Delusion to its own standard – the standard that Delusion itself set and maintained to perfection in prior years of its production.
Something else that always set Delusion apart was the cast of characters, played by some of the most talented actors you’d ever imagine encountering. Not only are this year’s characters uninspired and terribly written, but the actors portraying them also come across as being of a much lower quality talent than past years. I know some are returning cast (and we recognized several) so we found ourselves left wondering if they went off script, were given poorer quality direction this year or simply not given enough time to rehearse (though we did not go on a rehearsal or preview week show, so there is simply no excuse for this.)
So many of them tried to be quote “funny” – with awkward storyworld shattering jabs delivered with a proverbial wink as if to say “Yes, I know I’m an actor and this is just a show, and none of it is actually real.”
Here’s the thing – once you enter its world, Delusion IS real. At least it should be, and it always has been before. Breaking the fourth wall, in an already broken show just makes things even less fulfilling for your audience.
2013’s Masque of Mortality and 2014’s Lies Within had us driving home talking excitedly and sharing stories of our experiences together. 2016’s His Crimson Queen saw us drive home in complete silence. Literally. This show lacks even one “WOW” moment.
A day later, a member of our group, with whom I’d seen each production of Delusion I’ve experienced to date asked me when we’re going to Delusion. At first I laughed, thinking his goal was to be funny, and act as though the prior night’s disappointing experience was just a bad dream – that is, until he clarified that he remembers what happened last night, but is having a hard time believing that was actually Delusion.
His Crimson Queen, regardless of producer, is not Delusion. His Crimson Queen is the quality equivalent of an unlicensed knock-off; a copyright infringement or a terrible cover band trying – and failing – to play Delusion’s greatest hits.
So to come full circle, this is a review which I could have never imagined I would be capable of having written. The truth is I struggled with rating Delusion – any Delusion – even the worst Delusion – as a 1 Key production, but I had to stick to my first reaction immediately upon exiting the house. “Wow, that was bad.” Those were the first words to come out of my mouth after my hour within. Not, “wow, that was ok.” Not “some of that was good.” It was bad – and as much as it truly pains me to do it, by the very quality standards I myself set forth for Escape Authority, a bad experience receives 1 Key.
I was a huge fan of the Delusion brand, and the truth is I still remain a huge fan of the Delusion brand. His Crimson Queen was not a good show, by any stretch of the imagination, and cannot be defended. And while I certainly cannot recommend you buy a ticket to experience Delusion in 2016, it is my sincerest hope that 2017 and beyond will be back to the bar-setting status quo Delusion not only created but continued to shatter in past years.
His Crimson Queen was far from Delusion’s grandest outing, but even it will not prevent me playing my part again in their next production in the future.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Duration: 60 minutes
Capacity: 10 people per group, with new groups entering every 15 minutes.
Group Type: Public / You may be paired with strangers.
Cost: $70 per person