Los Angeles, CA
After a one year hiatus due to trouble securing a venue, Delusion has returned for its fifth year, bringing with it another incredible spectacle of haunted theater from Creator/Writer/Director Jon Braver to legions of eager fans who quickly sold out its initial run of ticket sales when they were made available in August. This year, the story is entitled His Crimson Queen, and as one might guess, it revolves around a sordid and sensual tale of mystery, intrigue... and vampires.
For those who may not be familiar with Delusion, this haunted attraction is really not a haunted attraction at all--at least not in the haunted house or maze format with which many Halloween enthusiasts are familiar. It is an interactive play where participants--brought in in groups of up to 10 people--are characters with an integral part of the storyline. Within the setting of a large and very real mansion (located this year in a residential neighborhood in Los Angeles west of USC and next door to the house that staged the first two years of Delusion), guests move from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, following a four-act plot that requires them to engage with the actors, perform certain tasks, solve puzzles, and commit themselves to being part of the tale. It is a physical experience--guests walk, run, and may be placed in confining spaces. In addition, at points in the hour-long experience, guests may be separated from the rest of the group, splitting off to perform certain actions or taken from the group through a sudden twist of the story. This wrinkle creates some unique experiences, and for better or worse, the only way to gather the complete story is to retell what happened to each party after experience is over.
Guests are encouraged to arrive early and settle themselves in an intimate little bar lounge area in the front yard of the the property. It isn't anything elaborate this year, just some macabre decorations and a couple of modest seating areas, but there are cards and Jenga for those who don't pass the wait socializing. Upon call time, participants are ushered up the front steps of the large and expansive five-story house and into the foyer, where the background of the night's story is laid forth.
Minor spoilers follow in this paragraph--only enough to describe the premise:
It is 1933 in upstate New York, and the gathered guests are the children of Burke and Selene Sullivan. Their mother, Selene, perished in a fire when they were very young, and their father was never able to fully recover from the tragedy. As a result, over the years, he grew distant, unable to express his love openly to his children for whom he did still care. However, on this night, under mysterious circumstances, the Sullivan children have been summoned by a puzzling letter from their father, who reveals the startling and vampire-rooted truth of their mother and their lineage, along with a suspicion that Selene may, in fact, still be alive.
Guests are then directed to peer through a glass doorway into an elegant dining room as the first act begins with an immediately shocking, appropriately voracious, and titillatingly sensual scene. The first characters are established, and after a moment, guests are then instructed to open the glass doors and pass into the room, literally become a part of the scene and immersing themselves into their roles.
Over the next hour, the saga takes participants throughout a house inhabited by two rival families of the eternally damned, revealing the principal antagonists and players. From the dining room, guests visit a study, and later a grand foyer, an eerie bedroom, a haunting attic, and then down to the sinister basement level (plus many other spaces), where scenes continue to play out with startling immersion. Delusion does not distinguish the guests from the actors. The guests are the grown Sullivan children, and the actors interact with them as though they are a vital part of each scene--because they are. Through most of the play, a character generally acts as a guide to steer the group from space to space, and plot turns are devised to permit seamless transitions between characters and allow previous actors the chance to reset back to their original scenes for the next group. An exception comes at the start of the third act, when the group ventures into the attic and is left alone to their own devices in what proves to be an escape room feature, where scary scavenger hunt of sorts must be performed to unlock the next scene. This moment may be slightly odd initially, since so much of the show is heavily planned and controlled, but it quickly falls into line with the rest of the storyline progression.
In typical Delusion fashion, the aesthetics are spell-bindingly wonderful and the theatrical effects amazing and heart-pounding. Each room is lavishly dressed with intricate detail, transforming them into a very real manor for vampires. Furniture, props, and fixtures seem to effuse age and past grandeur. The stuntwork maintains familiar acrobatics from previous Delusion shows, as actors fly across a room or soar from above or hurl through doors and walls. The actors themselves are utterly fantastic, owning their roles with passion and intensity that is typically seen on the theater stage. The 40-something odd person cast (spanning 17 characters) is comprised of professional stage actors, and they carry a crisp and impressive emotional thrust to their performances. Lust, paranoia, control, desperation, hunger, malevolence... these traits ooze forth with visceral impact, and each actor truly draws everyone into his or her impassioned arc. There's also a constant and absolutely wonderful soundtrack that flows from room to room, injecting suspense and emotion into the ambiance of the show, emphasizing the Broadway nature of the experience. Indeed, everything has been carefully and brilliantly orchestrated to absolutely convince participants that the transpirings of this haunted play are absolutely real.
The Gothic storyline ultimately crescendos with the fates of Burke and Selene played out in intimate detail. But interestingly, while past versions of Delusion have typically concluded with a high intensity, high energy, adrenaline pumping shock to cap off the finale with a bang, His Crimson Queen ends with an understated whisper. It's a conclusive end, to be sure. It just lacks a heart-grabbing punch. And yet, it is also tragically beautiful, a sentimental stroke to the end of an ephemeral supernatural sojourn. It may not be what veteran attendees of Delusion expect, but it works, and it's touching.
Once again, Delusion cements itself as the king of haunted theater with His Crimson Queen. The story is exquisite, the action is acute, the setting is ethereal, and the experience unforgettable. Guests who buy in and commit themselves into the story in the same way the actors do will have an even better experience. The greater the group participation, the better the enjoyment.
Jon Braver and his exceptionally hard working team have outdone themselves this year, especially given the tide of challenges they faced with the production. The house itself was not decided until almost the middle of the year--which is critical, because Braver actually writes the script around the setting, not the other way around. A seemingly insurmountable hurdle arose in the peak of summer when the owner of the house demolished most of the interior without informing the production and staging team until after the deed was done. Ultimately, the crew only had three weeks to install the scenes, rigging, sound, video, lighting, and set dressing required to fully transform the 7000 square feet of space in which the play took place. A conditional change permit had to be negotiated, and it remains on a weekly renewal cycle, which means a new permit must be acquired before each week's run. And yet, the team has made it, running four groups through the building at any given point in time--four simultaneous shows at various stages and a myriad of synchronization, reset, and coordination throughout the evening.
The exceptional quality and high standards have paid off, though, since (as mentioned at the top of this review) Delusion has been well sold out through its entire first run (through November 13) for a couple of months now. The team hopes to expand the run, but this entirely depends on the local neighborhood's reception to Delusion's presence and the impact by guests on the residential area. Thusfar, there doesn't seem to have been any issues, but time will tell. Hopefully, Delusion can be extended, since there is definitely an even greater audience looking for a chance to experience this gem of haunted theater.
More information on Delusion can be found at its web site, which is also where fans can sign up for the Delusion emailing list to be the first notified of show availability. Tickets are on the pricier side, but the cost of admission is definitely worth the experience. Also, the show is definitely designed for an adult audience, due to language, some sexual content, and adult themes
Kudos to the entire Delusion staff and actors. They've brought out the best of this Halloween season. The haunt community cannot wait to see what comes next.
Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.