Review: ‘Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret’ by TBD Immersive

Remember the choose-your-own-adventure books from grade school? Well, imagine that but in a live scenario where you are a character in the story, not just an observer guiding the action. This is the nature of TBD Immersive’s presentations.

Karen Lange (center, in red) as Marilena Westcott in TBD Immersive's 'Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.' Photo by Tony Hitchcock.
Karen Lange (center, in red) as Marilena Westcott in TBD Immersive’s ‘Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.’ Photo by Tony Hitchcock.

Their current production, Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret, is an exhilarating experience, with a cast of full and fascinating characters. Devising Playwright and Producing Story Director Jenny Splitter has created a plot with hints of Russian ties, secret societies, and murderous scheming, sprinkled with racy performances and secret affairs.

TBD (which delightfully stands for Tradition Be Damned) was started in DC by Founder and Producing Artistic Director Strother Gaines. The company’s work is explained on their website:

“Our shows are about more than sitting back and watching theatre happen, they’re about exploring a world you help us create together. You’re free to customize your own journey by seeking out your favorite character, diving head first into a puzzle quest or trying to uncover the web of secrets that make up the multi-faceted story.”

So, what exactly is Immersive Theatre? Think improv theater, with controlled audience participation, (e.g. The Kennedy Center’s Shear Madness) on steroids with no stage and the audience interacts in the scene with little limitation. Though I should mention that it’s not just a no-rules free-for-all and the participants are advised to use discretion and common sense with their interactions.

There are some scripted scenes and established plots that are followed but it is up to the audience to talk to the characters and discover what they can about the different storylines. The actors must be prepared to react to any question or comment that pops into each individual’s head, unlike the standard interactive books and video games that are limited by pre-determined questions or actions.

The complexity of maintaining this level of live-adventure storytelling, with so many unpredictable moving parts, is mind-boggling but the TBD cast enacts it with seeming ease. I won’t pretend to understand the extent of preparation involved but Producing Improvisational Director Dana Malone Heiser must have her skills down to a fine science.

Kyle Rasmussen of Peculiarity Productions performs in TBD Immersive's 'Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.' Photo by Tony Hitchcock.
Kyle Rasmussen of Peculiarity Productions performs in TBD Immersive’s ‘Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.’ Photo by Tony Hitchcock.

The evening begins when you walk up the steps into the Whittemore Estate, where you are a guest at an elaborate birthday party for the Westcott twins, Astrid (Nerissa Hart) and Drew (Marshall Bradshaw). Right away, you hear whispers of the suspicious demise of the former Mrs. Westcott, who died during the twins’ party the previous year.

There is mystery around the beloved wife and mother’s death, and then speedy replacement by the unknown former Vegas performer Marilena (Karen Lange), who is loud, unapologetic, and willing to burst into song at any given moment.

But the father, James Westcott (Don Myers), seems to sincerely love his new bride, and the other characters play along with the facade of normalcy, privately communicating with whispers and secret signs.

The evening was unlike anything I have ever experienced and I enjoyed every character I encountered, especially Val (Melanie Boyer), “Ginny” Wescott (Cate Minichino), Petra Thompson (Heather Marie Vitale), and John Riley (Keenan Gibson) who each had a special hand in guiding me along my story.

There are numerous interesting characters and standout personalities, and I interacted with only a portion of the cast. I would, frankly, love to go back and focus on those I missed the first go-round.

And that is the beauty of this adventure. You can follow whatever characters and themes appeal to you the most.

I attended with a friend and we would go on our own for a bit and then meet back to discuss who we met, what we learned, and what or whom we should focus on next.

We had an absolute blast. The performers were unflinchingly invested in the story and the audience members were excitedly flitting from room to room, trying to unfold their story.

Chaseedaw Giles as Angelique and Amanda Haddock as Madame Meredith Martine in TBD Immersive's 'Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.' Photo by Tony Hitchcock.
Chaseedaw Giles as Angelique and Amanda Haddock as Madame Meredith Martine in TBD Immersive’s ‘Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret.’ Photo by Tony Hitchcock.

Adding to the fun is an after-party (of sorts), where there is a cash bar and the actors come out (as themselves) and you can discuss the adventure and ask questions. This is a brilliant touch to allow for resolution of the puzzles you discover – and there is so much to discover – but don’t find answers to.

TBD Immersive’s Ouroboros: Dawn of the Cabaret is a unique experience that is perfect for any date night, girls’ night, co-worker night, solo night–I think you get the idea. (Note to any theater people: retired, current, or aspiring: this is your candy shop.)

But remember, this is not your “average” theater experience, and I would advise visiting the company’s website for details about the show’s content and what to expect if you are apprehensive.

Ouroboros: Dawn Of The Cabaret plays through March 2, 2019, at TBD Immersive, performing at the Whittemore Estate–1526 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or purchase them online.

Creative Team

Producing Artistic Director, Strother Gaines; Producing Improvisational Director, Dana Malone Heiser; Devising Playwright and Producing Story Director, Jenny Splitter.

Core Cast

James Westcott – Don Myers; Marilena Westcott – Karen Lange; Astrid Westcott – Nerissa Hart; Drew Westcott – Marshall Bradshaw/Marissa Goodstone; Sophie Byron – Emily Collins; Lauren Cargill – Rachel Messbauer; Madam Meredith Martine – Amanda Haddock; Capt. Raine Mitchell – Rikki Frohmader; Val Parker – Melanie Boyer; John Riley – Keenan Gibson.

Fabric Cast

Angel Armas – Erick Acuña; Angelique – Chaseedaw Giles; Pauline Barnes/Hestia – Annetta Dexter Sawyer; Brooklyn Bayard – Nell Quinn-Gibney; Anastasia Feodorovna – Natasha Preston; Rep. Addison Graves – Leo Delgado; Alex Hayes – Dakota Schuck; Pearl – Frances Bagette; Lila Rose – Catherine Deadman; Petra Thompson – Heather Marie Vitale; Virginia “Ginny” Westcott – Cate Minichino; Wallace Westcott – Daniel Riker; Mother Whisper – Beth Lyons; Dahlia Winthrop – Kristin Zeldes.

Cabaret Performers

Peculiarity Productions performers, DivaFit performers, Francesca Armino, Bearcat Betty, Delilah Dentata, Elise Foster, Dean Hively, Samantha Kacos, Christian Kloc, Tricia Melka.

Designers/Crew

Quest Designers, Marshall Bradshaw, Nerissa Hart; Associate Producer, Marissa Goodstone; Props Artisan, Colleen Parker; Costuming, Deborah Lash; Marketing Lead, Alysa Turner.