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Capital Fringe 2014 Review: ‘Seance’

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“Save Madame MacGuffin’s shop!” The actors greet audience members as they walk in the door, invite them to browse the shop and inquire about their spiritual or psychic needs. Many audience members immediately respond with plausible requests. The two actresses on stage insist that the remaining character will soon join us. Madame MacGuffin (Annetta Dexter Sawyer) prances into the audience and strikes up one-sided conversations. When a tall, attractive audience member enters, she pounces on him, declares that he is one of her former husbands and insists that they go on a date soon. The young man laughingly agrees and takes his seat in the front row. This is all pre-show entertainment. Borealis Theatre’s production of Séance is off to a fun and interactive start.

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The entire set is Madame MacGuffin’s shop: two tables and several panels painted to simulate shelves in a psychic curiosity shop. Audience members browse until Madame MacGuffin’s stern assistant Wilhemena (Pamela Leahigh, also the show’s co-writer) instructs them to take their seats. The show begins with the introduction of famous psychic Crimson Herring (Steve N. Bradford, also the show’s director and co-writer). Bradford’s farcical entrance includes finger LED lights and an exaggerated dance number to a popular music montage including the theme song from Dr. Who, Gangnam Style and the ubiquitous power ballad “Let It Go” from Frozen. At Wilhemena’s urging, Crimson Herring agrees to do a psychic reading. He addresses the audience, asks them purposefully vague questions and responds to whatever they say. The audience is engaged and enjoying themselves.

The characters agree to hold a séance in the hopes of saving the shop. The audience votes on whom they should contact, but we do have some strong urging from Wilhemena. At this point, the audience interaction passes the point of no return. The characters invite the audience up on stage to participate in the séance. Approximately one-third of the audience members join hands in a circle around the characters—effectively blocking the onstage action. Wilhemena becomes a conduit for the spirit of Marilyn Monroe. The script suddenly seems very fluid or completely open to interpretation. Crimson Herring asks the audience what we’d like to know or hear from Marilyn Monroe. Leahigh clearly knows her Monroe history, and she answers the questions well. This takes approximately 15 minutes, and the plot doesn’t progress during this time. Moreover, the audience members are still standing onstage for the duration of this scene.

Eventually the séance concludes, the audience members sit and the show ends. I greatly enjoyed the first part of the show, but the Marilyn Monroe section is too vague and the seated audience members can’t see the actors. I think this could be solved by only inviting a couple audience members onstage and having them return to their seats immediately after Ms. Monroe appears. The question and answer period with Ms. Monroe could also be limited to a few questions, and the ending could be a little clearer.

With the interactive nature of Séance, each show will be a bit different. The Capital Fringe program lists Séance as recommended for kids ages 13 and older, but it would probably earn a PG rating as a movie. I could see this show appealing to younger kids as well. I asked Bradford about this after the show. Since they allow the audience so much leeway, they are concerned about slightly more risqué comments. Noting that concern, I think pre-teen audience members would enjoy this show.

Running Time: 50 minutes.

Séance plays through July 27, 2014 at Atlas Theatre Lab II–1333 H Street NE in Washington, D.C. For information and to purchase tickets, visit the production’s Capital Fringe Page.

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