There are few moments more terrifying in a human’s life than those that forever alter how we think of ourselves. The moment when a boy is first called a man or a woman first learns she is pregnant, for instance, can spark an overwhelming rush of mixed emotions within us. We feel both excitement and fear, both joy and terror, all somehow in equal amounts and nearly paralyzing in their intensity.
REMEMBER ME: ELIZABETH takes one such moment and propels the audience directly into the center of its creation. Set in the late 1800’s, the audience finds itself caught in the events that lead to the greatest alteration of a human possible: the destruction of an innocent life and the birth of a monster. With a strong cast and a sharp idea of its narrative, ELIZABETH offers an intimate look at something terrible and makes us complicit in what unrolls before our eyes.
Unlike the previous REMEMBER ME installment where audience members were invisible ghosts gazing into the past, this time we are dropped smack into the bodies of guests who were already present in 1885, where the majority of the story occurs on the night of a young woman’s engagement party. It’s an excellent idea from a narrative standpoint as it allows – practically compels – the audience to directly interact with the cast and gives them some pre-defined relationships to help them along the way.
I, for instance, found myself as the best female friend of Elizabeth herself (played with excellent depth and charm by Stepy Kamei). Even that simple definition decided many of my reactions to the others characters around me. I was properly lady-like to the sad, quietly desperate Ambrose (a nicely convincing Richard Large). I was excited to meet the dashing husband-to-be William (played with frightening skill by Alexander Echols) until he pulled me aside for a brief conversation and I suddenly found myself understanding #MeToo in a much more visceral way than I have before.
I watched with great amusement as other audience members also navigated their way through their interactions, including some individuals new to immersive theatre who threw themselves into their characters with abandon. ELIZABETH, fortunately, was able to accommodate such actions with few hiccups and that is the mark of a cast that has truly embraced the nature of their characters in a strong way.
Without saying any more about the actual plot, it’s time to turn to the themes of this particular story. Each of the REMEMBER ME experiences created by The Count’s Den focuses on a different vampire’s past and a specific theme of damnation that echoes into the monster they are in the present. Elizabeth’s damnation centers on the destruction of innocence through an explosion of violence and sexuality. In fact, the final scene of her story may be hard for some people to watch, although for me it was done with exactly the line of reality necessary for the moment to have the deep emotional impact it was meant to have. I have a great deal of respect for the actors in that scene for their combination of dedication to the moment and care for how it was portrayed for the audience. Again, such scenes can be a tough line to walk but it was done very well.
But there were other themes hidden away in this experience that were equally interesting to me, generated from moments that the audience had to actively search for through their own characters. I saw stories of loss, desperation, denial, sadism, fear, love and hypocrisy, each spun carefully from different cast members as they traveled through an event that should have been so happy and was, instead, so hollow.
Even the items given to audience members by various characters hinted at some of these deeper themes. For instance, I received a note from Elizabeth’s mother that spoke of loss and pride and death while the person I came to the event with received a handkerchief that represented pride and domination and hypocrisy.
If there was a downside to these other themes, it came from not being able to follow them to a truly deeper end. Since the story was focused on Elizabeth’s story, I could understand why the other ideas only went so far. But when a show gives me the freedom to interact to such a great amount (which is something I personally love in immersive shows), I want to be able to do things like talk to the Count hidden away under his black-draped hat. There can, however, be advantage in leaving the audience wanting more than they get, as it certainly did make me more willing to invest in those ideas that were the focus of the story.
Separately, there were a few small missteps in pacing during the performance I attended. While the audience could and did interact with characters in multiple groupings and scenarios throughout the evening, I did find myself having the occasional moment where I was uncertain what I should be or could be doing. These moments were few, mostly when large segments of the cast were off doing a side-scene that I didn’t happen to be at, but I was not the only audience member to mention feeling lost for a minute or two. It was only noticeable, in fact, because I was so engaged in the rest of the show.
As for the cast, I was highly impressed with them throughout the evening. Stepy Kamei’s Elizabeth was exactly the right level of innocent, making her ultimate finale heartbreaking and very painful to watch. (I even uttered out loud a response very appropriate to an 1880’s woman in an effort to alter the outcome, a response I only realized I’d done after I’d said it.) Every moment I experienced with her felt real and connected to the moment. I was also impressed with how far she was willing to go in order to make that moment work.
Equally impressive, both in that scene and throughout, was Alexander Echols as William. I found his portrayal both compelling and repelling in equal measure in all the best ways. Strong, slick, demeaning and degenerate, Echols navigated a very delicate minefield of a character with grace. I have to commend the actor playing William, Alexander Echols, for pulling off the very tough job of being a villain whose dark choices resonate as real and not cartoonish. Such a line can be hard to walk and he did it very well.
I also want to specifically call out the skill of Sabrina Ranellucci who had the unenviable role of the maid Laura. Laura was the classic maid who knows everyone’s secrets and has to try to hold the entire scenario together even as various members treat her terribly or begin to fall apart. In a lesser actor’s hands this role would have come across as either cliché or flat. Ranellucci instead managed to make me both respect and hate Laura at the same time, which is a strange emotion to have for a maid. She also managed to derail me from looking for Elizabeth at an inopportune time from a structural standpoint and I did not realize she had done so until she’d already accomplished it. That’s a remarkable level of misdirection.
The rest of the cast was equally enjoyable in their roles, although I did not interact with them as deeply. The audience members who did were deeply impressed, however, and that speaks once more to the idea of a strong cast and a well-designed show.
ELIZABETH pulled many different strings together over the 90 minutes I was there and ultimately crafted an engaging and emotional tale that was well worth the journey. It spins a tale desperate and sad, heartbreaking and violent, a tale of a woman who wanted to be happy and instead found something much worse than despair. I found myself wanting to save Elizabeth and hopelessly knowing that there was nothing that could be done because these events were already locked in place in the past.
As a backstory to Elizabeth as a modern-day character, this experience will inform audience members and make them look at her (and the other vampires around her) from a new, sadder vantage point. It may even alter how people interact with her in the present. Regardless, this event was a dark, depressing and very entertaining evening that I was both thrilled to attend and deeply sad that I witnessed.
For more information on The Count’s Den visit www.thecountsden.com.