Reviewed by Tom Lawler
Public House Theatre presents MINDREADER.
As its press materials suggest, is the Mindreader a live-action video game or something closer to an interactive haunted house?Neither of these descriptions quite do this production justice for this critic, but hear me now: Mindreader is easily the most intense, thrilling theatrical experience I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to do it again. Experience. This is the key word here – this isn’t something you watch but actively participate in and help create. Or die trying.
As much as I want to describe what I saw and did, I’ll resist sharing exact details and spoiling the surprise for those of you who dare take the challenge of this brilliant concept from creators Clayton Margeson and Prescott Gadd (This only plays for a few hours for the next couple of weekends though – buy your tickets immediately as they’re already selling out.). I can assure you though that if you do head over to Wrigleyville’s Public House Theater and are tempted by that fine beer and cocktail menu down the street at Uncommon Ground for a pre-show refreshment, I warn you – stop at one drink. You will need all of your wits to succeed with Mindreader.
After reviewing the ground rules and signing the obligatory don’t-sue-us waiver, your adventure actually begins at the box office. This is when you’re gifted with a magical power (mind reading) that is your only hope for succeeding in this battle of nerves and wits.
You then proceed into the first of a series of rooms that you can only advance through by unlocking the mental puzzles laid out for you and successfully interacting with the cast members that man each room.
Two things here to report: While you are never in physical danger in Mindreader, it sure doesn’t feel this way. “Room 2,” for instance, felt like a white-knuckle rollercoaster ride. This was a room of pure dread and once I realized what I had to do to escape this space, all hell broke loose before I somehow cheated death and made it to the next chamber. The second thing I have to call out is that Mindreader has a very witty and energetic cast who makes you work for every clue, but keeps you engaged – and at times – very uneasy about your fate.
As ingenious as the show concept is as a new form of interactive theater, it’s the versatility and improv chops of this cast that make you feel as if you’re creating your own personal story on the fly. It’s thrilling! Sure, you can literally answer the questions that are asked with the secrets and clues that you pick up along the way. You can also, however, answer these questions sidewise and the actors you interact with won’t bat an eye. They’ve got game.
I’m thinking now of a room that was staffed by an intense man with a Germanic accent who was assembling a weapon while telling about all of the “beautiful” things that it can do to a human body. He is smiling and seems friendly enough, but I should be weary of his intentions, yes? There’s an edge in his voice as he peppers me with questions about my identity and I do my best to keep up with the clues I’m getting from my mind reading power. (This production could also be called The Imposter because that’s often what you’re doing.)
Oh no! The room suddenly feels colder, and I think of that scene in True Romance with Gary Oldman as the killer pimp where if I handle this wrong, I’m a dead man. My interrogator asks me a question that I don’t know, and I try to get clever about stalling and not answering it directly when my booze –loosened tongue trips over some basic information that was already given to me. His eyebrow cocks and he realizes I’m not who I claimed to be.
He raises his weapon, and I have one thought. Crap.
Now I’m an embarrassed corpse looking for the exit sign. (Damn you, Uncommon Ground bartender and your artisanal Old Fashioned!)
Since I only saw about half of the rooms in this adventure, I’ll have to go back and try again. I must. There’s no telling what’s waiting for me out there, but I guarantee I will be more prepared for it.
Running Time: 5-20 minutes (depending on your success in advancing through your mission). Audience members proceed through Mindreader one at a time every few minutes. Highly recommended to go with a group so you can compare experiences afterwards. Cost varies based on your success in completing your mission.
At Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark
Written and directed by: Clayton Margeson and Prescott Gadd
Limited-run performances: Saturday-Sunday June 15-16, Saturday-Sunday June 22-23, Noon-3pm
Buy tickets at pubhousetheatre.com or 800-650-6449