Archives of the Deep Now, Episode Three: Altar Ego

Disclaimer: What happens when two BITR Sisters see the same show together?  They write dueling reviews! This little experiment is the perfect example of how two people can see the same show and have different opinions and different experiences.  Which is why you should never trust reviewers. They don’t know shit.

I was already a member of the lost secret society known as the “Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now” from my participation in Episode 1 and 2.  I knew the deal.  I was a seasoned “researcher” at this point.  I had my own parking spot out front. I had lunch at the “Thin Place” a few days ago.  For those unfamiliar with Submersive Productions, the Episodes within the Institute of Visionary History and the Archives of the Deep Now are 35-45 minute immersive experiences with a solo actor with a small group of fellow “researchers” aka audience members aka strangers.  We are about to enter the aforementioned “Thin Place” located conveniently in the Peale Museum, a place where time and space overlap. The Institute guides had to prep the researchers before we entered.

The experience starts off with a small presentation/ritual featuring a dutiful attendant and a soothing female recorded voice. Together they provide an overview of the Institute, photos and artifacts about the Institute as well as about the specific Episode you are about to witness. Each box from the Archives contains an experiment designed to conjure visions of the past in order to ask a specific question.  The question we were meant to ponder during the Episode 3 experience was “What are the boundaries between home and not home?”  Home and not home? What the fuck does that mean? I had to take my analytical hat off for the next 30ish minutes so I cleared my mind and went forward with openness ready to listen and explore.  After the orientation, we were instructed to enter a small room which held the “thin place” designed to the specific dimensions when the Society was active. My fellow researchers looked around, found the particular artifact box as instructed, opened it and Episode 3 began.

Its 1993, the year the US ended the embargo with Vietnam, and we are invited to a cultural exchange dinner party hosted by Jen (Kim Le).  Following the Vietnam war in the 1970s, many South Vietnamese immigrants travelled to the U.S. in search of a better life. Although Vietnamese immigrants adapted to the American way of life, they retained many of their cultural rituals. In particular, the idea of ancestor worship and the belief that remembering and honoring the dead is an important aspect of life.

Kelly (Kim Le) enters the room and I like her immediately. Actress Kim Le has this extraordinary way of putting you at ease right away.  I’m in the “Thin Place” but I feel like I’m in her family room. She’s clad in a cute dress and apron and flutters around the place like an unsure host. We sat and she asked each researcher about their spouse and kids. We talk about the last dinner party at an Italian friend’s home. All the cheese! She cracks corny jokes (my kind of woman) and makes you feel at home. The lighting in the room was warm and inviting. The researchers sit around a table like we are at a dinner party. We put on aprons! We laugh! This is fun! Kelly tells us we are going to participate in a ritual to celebrate Ghost Day aka “Vietnamese Halloween”.  Except without the costumes, candy, or devil worship. It’s a time to honor those who have passed away and to remember them as they once were. But how silly of her, we need food! Who has time to cook these days? It’s the 90s technology boom and a new device, thanks to her husband’s connections with Panasonic, has been installed in her home. Tell the device a specific code for a particular item, food or otherwise, and it will appear. Jen gets distracted by a phone call from her mother (been there) and she asks us to prepare the ceremonial table for Ghost day. My fellow researchers and I scramble to set the table. If you attend the Episode you’ll find out why.  It was frantic and I liked it.

Le burned incenses and asked us to think of a lost loved one.  Kim Le was captivating. One minute she’s a hurried house wife, the next she is a wise, calm woman, older than her years. She spoke softly of her memories of her grandmother as we chewed sugar cane and peanuts. I believed what she said and was in a trance. Visions of my Godmother who died of stomach cancer last year jumped into my head and I found myself connected to our host and the other researchers. Moments of silence entered the room and laid heavy upon us. Le was still, unmoved by the drastic change in the air. We go from this flurry of activity to silence in an instant. It was mesmerizing and I was fully engaged. Submersive has done it again. They have this organic way of pulling you in and leaving you there to explore and wonder. My favorite part of performances are the pregnant pauses where you see and experience the characters emoting. This experience had just the right amount of stillness and action. What’s going to happen next? I imagined my Godmother entering the room. I heard footsteps. Is it her?  If Episode 2 was a feast for the eyes, Episode 3 was a feast for the soul.  Home is home and everything else is not home. I am home at Submersive Production.

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  Go see Episode 3 now! If you love learning about other cultures and having deep meaningful reactions to theater this is the place to be! Submersive  Productions has weaved a story together that is rich with culture, family and discovery. It had heart, stillness, excitement and uncertainty. Episode 3 was magical and the experience moved me. Isn’t that the point of theater? Jump head first into Ghost day! Pull up a chair, place an object on the table, chew some sugar cane and let the experience wash over you. Your ancestors will thank you. (Z)

AND NOW FOR THE SECOND REVIEW BELOW:

Home is where the heart is. And the Peale Museum is starting to feel like home.  This is well-timed in the progression of Deep Now Episodes.  Those of you following along, this is the third week in a row that my fellow BITR and I have dined at the amazing Ida B’s, then tromped up to the Peale, entered the thin place and had other worldly experiences.  We are groupies. But it is all good.

This week’s question was “what is the difference between home and not home?” Odd question.  I think the idea of home was solid, but the question is a bit clunky.  I mean, I think I know when homes aren’t mine (lol). They are probably clean and stuff.

The heart of this show is the single actress, Kim Le who welcomes you into her home at the institute’s experimental room.  She is funny, warm and inviting.  She sits and makes simple conversation with us “guests” but her phone won’t stop ringing- damn telemarketers.  As she takes a call from her mother, we are asked to pop in a tape and follow the instructions.  They tell us how to set an “altar” for the ghost day.  A Vietnamese tradition where food is placed out for the ancestors.  We sampled some strange and familiar things all with the help of a new microwave that is straight out of the Jetsons.

As we sit there is a ritual explained to us.  We are to invite in a ghost. Someone who has passed and is welcome back for tonight.  We light incense and go through a small ceremony, then are asked to write down the person’s name and an item that reminds us of them.  One of the researchers stated in our debriefing that she was surprised by who popped into her head.  I spoke of a friend that recently passed and left my family a small inheritance that we were not expecting at all.  I did, as the ceremony went on, picture her very clearly in my mind coming through the curtain to the room.  This was a strange experience, I don’t usually day dream quite so vividly and either Kim Le slipped something in that sugar cane or this ceremony is working.  Maybe a combo of both.

This one felt the most intimate of the all the episodes and allowed for a real connection between researchers.  I was also fascinated by the debriefing.  My fellow researchers and I all found ourselves writing paragraphs on the back of our cards.  I wonder if this was a typical response or if we had an encounter of another kind.  Remind me to ask those people at Submersive for some insight and data on this topic.

So what is this Deep Now thing?  The coolest is that if you’ve been before, you know what to do, but if you haven’t it is so easy!  One of our researchers was a newbie, the rest were all re-runs.  But this immersive experience doesn’t require any pre-requisites, so give it a go!  And you get some tasty vittles to boot!

SHOULD I STAY OR SHOULD I GO?  You should go.  And if you were going to start, this is an excellent episode to jump upon.  Episode 4 rolls out in November and Episode 5 at the holidays.  Why not make an evening and try something out of your comfort zone?  But this one is very cozy and complacent it is the ideal situation to make you feel, well, at home. (I)

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