If you know anything about the Los Angeles horror scene you have heard of Delusion, Writer, Director, Jon Braver’s mold shattering interactive plays that takes immersive storytelling to a completely new level. However, by the time you first hear of this brilliant piece of work, you also quickly find out that there are no tickets left, with rabid fans stepping over their own mothers to get a ticket. We will get back to that in a minute, but suffice it to say the demand and the praise are very well deserved. Delusion‘s latest production, His Crimson Queen, further upholds the franchises’ title of gold standard upon which all other horror experiences are judged.

If you are totally unfamiliar, allow me to explain. Delusion is a series of horror-themed, interactive plays that are presented during the Halloween season in Los Angeles. Audience members play an active part. There is no stage, but instead a location, usually an existing structure with plenty of rooms and corridors to stage the action in. Audience members, usually 10 per show, are part of the cast and, as such are guided in their parts by the actors in the show. There are no lines to learn, nor is anyone put on the spot (unless they want to be). Braver creates a believable world where grown adults can suspend disbelief and play make-believe for an hour, becoming a part of a fantastical world of suspense, supernatural powers, and never-ending dread.

Photography by Nick Agro

Photography by Nick Agro

After a very painful hiatus in 2015 Delusion has returned with the fascinating production, His Crimson Queen. The audience play the part of the children of Berke and Selene Sullivan. Berke is a distant father who is tirelessly searching for his thought-to-be-deceased wife. As the story begins, we, the children, arrive at a Spanish Villa in Upstate New York (A sprawling Spanish Villa in the hills of Los Angeles). We have received a letter from our father stating that he believes our mother to be alive and held captive in this very mansion. This convoluted prologue is more eloquently depicted in a clever opening scene in which our first guide into the play directs our attention to a series of paintings.  We as the audience are then given the directive to find our mother in this house of dangerous characters.

Steeped in vampire lore and romantic intrigue we are pulled into a swarthy hive of sinners, blood suckers, and double crossers all intent on hiding their most coveted prize, our mother. What do they want from her? Why are they keeping her hidden? Why have we been drawn in to not only help our father but to uncover a family mystery that will expose us to untold dangers?

Photography by Nick Agro

Photography by Nick Agro

Braver is definitely stretching his legs on this production in both storytelling and technical prowess, exploring themes that are far more graphic and carnal. The play begins with us spying through misty panes of glass on a pair having sex in a Dining room. As the scene unfolds a ray of light seeps in through a window and is used to torture another individual that happens to be a vampire. We are pulled in to the action and suddenly we are in the story, on the stage as it were.

What makes His Crimson Queen stand out from previous Delusion productions is the structure of the storytelling and its technical feats. In this show plot points are very clearly delineated. Instead of letting the show flow from moment to moment, Braver ceremoniously divides the show into four acts using declarative, voice over narration. This device is a double edged sword in that it gives the audience an expectation for the events ahead while at the same time pulling us out of the pretend world we are in. Part of the fun of previous Delusion shows was pouring over the details in your mind, comparing experiences with others, and piecing together the tapestry of a plot that was presented to you. Here the storyline is less layered, far more straightforward. While it helps with the enjoyment in the moment, it lessens the impact of repeat visits.

Photography by Nick Agro

Photography by Nick Agro

Speaking of the technical aspects, this is, by far, the most complex show Delusion has ever produced. Having a storyline that demands very specific lighting cues, timed transitions, precise, multi-story stunts, and perfectly timed, synchronized score is a miracle that this show pulls off not once, but many times a night. Ian Momii’s elegant lighting design becomes a character of its own, threatening and protecting from scene to scene. Siddartha Barnhoorn’s haunting original score for the play follows the audience from room to room like a lingering aural spectre shadowing our emotions. Too, I would be remiss if I did not mention the perfect make up, hair, and costumes by Cat Elrod as her contribution is just as important as the performers that wear her work. Lastly the show would not be nearly as good without the meticulous Production Design of Kevin Williams. Sharp-eyed Delusion fans will be able to spot references to previous years through out this show.

On the acting front this is no different than any other show Delusion has produced. These are living, breathing characters that you are immediately drawn to. The entire ensemble works to keep a consistent level of believability that is engrossing and compelling including fine work from Jahel Corban Caldera, Christine Joëlle, Eli Rahn, Eric Pierce, and Shayne Eastin. However, standouts include Amaka Izuchi as Niyia in what has to be one of the most disturbing and powerful characters Braver has created to date and Benjamin Berg offering a frantic and strangely sympathetic performance as Familiar.

Photography by Nick Agro

Photography by Nick Agro

Braver would kill us for saying it this way, but here goes. Delusion is a haunt mixed with movie quality sets, stunts and lighting that totally surround you in a effort to command that little part of us that wants to suspend our disbelief to take over. Delusion: His Crimson Queen is suspenseful, not terrifying. While technically horror, this is more haunting than scary. It is a sophisticated night of gothic diversion that the fashionable go to rather than the tactile extremities of other venues. There is also a lounge with a full bar on the premises, so there is that.

We have raved about this show every time it has come around and the biggest question on everyone’s minds is, “How do you get a ticket to a show that sold out before it opened?”  Easy.  You wait for them to announce an extended run. How do you find that out when they announce that? The only way to really know when tickets will go on sale for the inevitable extension is by signing up for their mailing list here. Yes, Delusion is still, the very best horror experience that this reviewer has ever been to.

 

About the Author: Norman Gidney

Norm(an) Gidney is a nearly lifelong horror fan. Beginning his love for the scare at the age of 5 by watching John Carpenter's Halloween, he set out on a quest to share his passion for all things spooky with the rest of the world.