Immersion theater is, to say the least, tricky for both play-goers and play-givers, as the former move about to various rooms to observe what the latter have created. With Uncumber Theatrics and Devious Maid Productions' collaboration on Professor Eldritch's Asylum for Uncanny and Extraordinary Women, the demands on both are pretty heavy.
It's a complicated concept by Abigail Lis-Perlis, "written and devised" (say the program notes) by co-directors Lis-Perlis and Ayne Terceira, "with significant contributions" from assistant director Spencer Whale "and the ensemble." Let's try. Eight women — based on real historical characters spanning centuries — are trapped together in time and space, in an asylum (think of the various meanings of that word) with no entrance or exit. The "extraordinary women" encompass both fame and infamy, with more than a few celebrated criminals; because this is a play of discovery, it would be unfair to reveal too much.
The characters evolve and clash in eight or so rooms on three floors in an old house (a private home in Swissvale). The play-goers are "attendants," invisible observers escorted to the different settings, which also change during the course of the 90-minute one-act. Sometimes the storyline splits in half, so the audience is divided, directly seeing one scene while overhearing the other, overlapping scene. Figuring out what's going on occasionally takes second place to the physical challenges offered by uneven stairs, creaky floors and the need to not block fellow audience members.
Cast and crew meet many challenges. Amanda Montoya reveals much as the mysterious Audrey. Michelina Polleni portrays a lovely fragility. Tamara Siegert and Hazel Leroy transmit differing vibes of menace. Emily Swora weaves through personae and threats. Courtney Jenkins strongly plays Asylum's catalyst. Christine Starkey makes a murderer sympathetic. And I can't give away Jenny Malarkey's role.
Patrick Geraci's often stunning costumes help define character and period. Fight choreographer Tonya Lynn works well in the tight spaces. Technical director Aaron Tarnow, stage manager Kate Louise Marchewka and props assistant Brennan Bobish do magic on the transforming sets.
As Asylum unfolds, secrets are revealed and confronted. Many secrets are kept. It can be a dizzying experience. Definitely for grown-ups only.