Paradiso: Chapter 1—Theater review by Jenna Scherer
Anyone who's been to Sleep No More,Then She Fell or their ilk will tell you that a big part of the pleasure comes from being permitted to linger. There are performers to watch, sure, but there are also the rooms full of drawers to rifle through, set pieces to puzzle over, moods to get lost in.
So it's perhaps not surprising that an attempt to blend immersive theater with the escape-room trend doesn't quite work as intended. Paradiso: Chapter 1 is an ambitious but not quite successful hybrid of the two. Experiential theater fans will feel harried, and escape room aficionados will likely not find the puzzle challenging enough. Still, it's a pretty fun adrenaline rush.
For those unfamiliar with the escape-room concept: It's essentially a live-action video game in which a group of players are locked in a room and made to uncover clues and solve puzzles to make their way out. (Elsewhere in town, you can make your way out of a Victorian library or a zombie-infested laboratory.)
Enter Michael Counts (The Walking Dead Experience) with this high-concept, high-budget take that involves multiple rooms, many actors and a narrative that promises to continue beyond this first volume. The concept necessitates not knowing too many details in advance, but suffice to say that it involves a sinister corporation, conspiracies and copious references to Dante's Divine Comedy.
You enter Paradiso in a group of up to 10, and you'll have one hour to figure out how to escape—or fail to, and hang your head in shame. There's a timer in every room counting down, and actors you'll come across who will either help or hinder. Willing suspension of disbelief is key here; it's all very clearly fake, but you must trick yourself into believing you're in danger for this to be fun.
As someone who enjoys exploring, I found myself frustrated by the time constraint. There's a seemingly elaborate mythology behind Paradiso's world—and so many cool drawers to open!—but you're distracted from learning more by the necessity to beat the clock. At the same time, it's also hard to stop and listen to a character's paranoid monologue when you know you could be putting keys in locks.
All that said: If you ever wanted to be the protagonist in a cheesy action flick, welcome to your sandbox. Set, lighting and sound design (with help from multimedia effects company BeSIDE) set a convincing mood, and you're encouraged to get as into the make-believe of the thing as you want to. So grab your pistol, Mr. Bond: We have a pickle to get out of.—Jenna Scherer
Location TBA. Conceived and directed by Michael Counts. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr. No intermission.