Presenting its 10th season of screams and scares at the Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena, Wicked Lit has become an Halloween-season tradition in Los Angeles. The immersive walking theater experience presented by Unbound Productions gives patrons a look at Mountain View's stunning mortuary (designed by Cecil E. Bryan) and provides a perfect complement to the show's supernatural subject matter.
Just being on the cemetery grounds in the dark is spooky enough, but going inside the mausoleum — with its tile, marble and echoing footsteps (the acoustics seem to have been designed for this), not to mention the dead bodies bolted behind walls — steps up the atmosphere even before the show starts. While there used to be preshow performances, those have been scuttled for an interactive museum of sorts, showcasing costumes, puppets and, of course, photo ops.
Other changes have been made this year: There are lower-priced tickets, smaller groups and two presentations instead of one (at 7:30 and 9 p.m.). Each show has been cut from three vignettes to two for a shorter running time of 75 minutes. And there’s no more traipsing through the cemetery, as was the case in past years. The entire thing takes place indoors now, perhaps for brevity.
This year the troupe’s two adaptations end up with uneven results, which isn’t due to the indoor confines. The ambiance is as unsettling as ever, but the stories aren’t as strong. They’re the bones of the skeleton, and the rest is just dressing. And fog. And strobe lights. And screams.
The first performance, produced for Wicked Lit back in 2010 and 2011, is called The Chimes: A Goblin Story, adapted by Jonathan Josephson from a novella by Charles Dickens. Toby Veck (Richard Large) is haunted by literal and metaphorical goblins (Christopher Wallinger and Lamont Webb) after denying daughter Meg (Hope Lauren) his blessing to marry a philosopher (Daniel Dorr). It’s very A Christmas Carol, as they’re essentially the Ghosts of Christmas Future, showing Toby the ramifications of his choices. Most of the show is set in pews, with the audience having to turn from the front to the back of the room and back again, which, while not difficult, could be problematic or distracting for some.
Presumably with the Dickens pedigree, they’re supposed to be in England, but it’s tough to pin down because the accents are dodgy. Director Darin Anthony lets it get a little shouty, and the demons look as if they escaped from the set of The Lost Boys, which doesn’t really add to a sense of horror.
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The second story, the world premiere of Teig O’Kane and the Corpse, adapted by Kerry Kazmierowicztrimm from a short story by Ernest Rhys, follows Teig (Flynn Platt), a young Irishman who, while mourning the loss of his mother, rebuffs his lover (Kelly Pierre), who is now with child. Teig ends up getting stuck (literally) with a corpse named Cory (Kevin Dulude), and the experience is meant to teach him some sort of lesson. It’s not clear what the corpse is teaching him or why Teig learns what he does. The ruminations on memory and the fear of not being remembered have moments of humanity, but being stuck to a corpse leads to some awkward, kind of silly choreography as they try to move together, and this detracts from the message.
Platt is the strongest of the actors in either of the ensembles, and he helps ground the character and the story the best he can. Director Paul Millet provides some thrills through the set direction, blocking and placement, which is more than the first story gets.
Overall, despite the shows being less effective then previous years' productions, the Wicked Lit experience is a memorable one. The mausoleum is stunning, and when the stories aren’t being presented, attendees are able to go around certain parts of the building and explore. In the quiet and the shadows, an eeriness is palpable. And who doesn’t want to get creeped out right before Halloween?
“Wicked Lit: The Chimes and the Corpse” runs through Nov. 10 at the Mountain View Mausoleum, 2300 Marengo Ave., Altadena; $30-$45; (323) 332-2065; wickedlit.org.