There is a dark cloud hanging over A Silver Lining, A Working Theater’s cleverly sardonic, metatheatrical foray into immersive theater. It settles over the audience as a viscerally unsettling feeling of dislocation and powerlessness that deepens with each successive scene.
Writers Matt Soson and Vika Stubblebine’s witty, 90-minute intellectual thrill ride takes its 12-member audiences down a harrowing narrative rabbit hole. The show satirizes the conventional tropes of immersive theater even as it expertly uses the immersion experience, along with a purposefully hackneyed, Dr. Who–like sci-fi plot to dramatically embody the coercive aspects of all narratives as an apparatus of power.
The evening begins on A Working Theater’s website, where directors Soson and Jessica Salans have planted the backstory of a sinisterly Benthamite-sounding producing partner called Panopticon Global. Then, in the show, when a resistance fighter from 500 years in the future (the roles rotate among the 14-member ensemble) literally hijacks the drab and overly familiar domestic melodrama that opens A Silver Lining, the audience learns that Panopticon has grown into a totalitarian media conglomerate, thus literalizing a Debordian dystopia of commodification and control that has brought Earth to the brink of apocalypse.
If that scenario sounds suspiciously cliché-ridden, it’s because Soson and Salans are less concerned with story and character than they are with frustrating audience expectations and making its surrender of control explicitly felt.
Anybody with even a passing acquaintance with the immersive horror attractions that pop up around town every Halloween will immediately recognize what happens next: A series of anxiety-generating puzzle rooms replete with seemingly pointless keys and maddeningly obscure clues that seem to defy solution. It's a winding labyrinth of ever-escalating indignities, including a kind of emasculation (achieved via the confiscation of cellphones) and being cajoled and even blindfolded through a gauntlet of increasingly surreal visual non sequiturs (courtesy of set designer Marika Stephens) with decreasing apparent “plot” relevance.
In the end, A Silver Lining is to immersive theatergoing what the Museum of Jurassic Technology is to museumgoing — a deliciously knowing genre parody in the service of something more radically pointed. By conscripting spectators as walking and talking participants whose direct interventions are required to determine the resistance hero's fate, Soson, Salans and co. implicate us in a system of meaningless choices and empty allegiances, which become a chastening reminder of the harm we do by playing the game at all.
A Working Theatre at Art Share L.A., 801 E. Fourth Place, dwntwn.; through Nov. 21. Aworkingtheater.ticketleap.com/a-silver-lining.
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