No arms. No legs. No eyes. No ears. No face. A ghost that hasn’t died yet. Johnny lies in a hospital bed utterly trapped. Unable to communicate with the outside world, he struggles to hold onto his grasp of reality. As memories become distorted and unimaginable loneliness sets in, he sinks deeper into the space between reality and fantasy. So far removed from the smiling faces and jovial cheers of friends and family on the train platform wishing him off to war. He now serves as an embodied reminder of the horrors of the battlefront in an unrecognizable shell of who he once was.
The Speakeasy Society’s THE JOHNNY CYCLE is one of the most powerful and well-done immersive experiences to date. This multi-track experience based on Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun is so complex and thought provoking it will leave you speechless by its conclusion. Not only will the audience get a glimpse into the memories and lived experience of Johnny but also author Dalton Trumbo as their narratives are interwoven throughout the piece. The author’s immersion into his work breathes life into Johnny as they both struggle for the right to express themselves. Audience members are randomly selected by actors to explore different aspects of their stories providing a unique experience to all participants and the ability to attend multiple times to unlock new information. Many of the scenes have small intimate groups which heightens the intensity and impact of the message. This experience is highly immersive however there is ample guidance from actors and limited opportunities for improvisation from patrons making it friendly to audience members who are new to the artform. Speakeasy Society have undertaken an incredible feat; they encapsulated the pain of a community confronted by the horrors of war and invite audience members to see through Johnny’s eyes.
Even though the narrative structure itself is extremely impressive, it is hard to identify something that is not remarkable about this piece. Every actor that I encountered was outstanding in their role. Audience members should be prepared to be moved by their performance, perhaps even to tears. Themes of grief and loss, regret, helplessness, and outrage are present throughout the piece and may invite you to take a personal inventory of your morals and what matters most to you. Additionally, standing amongst marble tombs and soft lamp light, the location itself provides the perfect backdrop to explore these heavy themes. Everything from the acting, to the writing, to the narrative, to the set was thoughtfully crafted and well done making it difficult to say anything constructive about this experience.
THE JOHNNY CYCLE is powerful, intense, evocative and well worth a trip to the Altadena Masoleum. From August 22nd to September 21st you can get a ticket to see this brilliant immersive piece at http://speakeasysociety.com/the-johnny-cycle for $125.