Bless their hearts.
This saying is among the first Southern phrases one learns upon moving to Houston. My understanding of it, in its kindest iteration, is that it conveys a feeling of empathy. An acknowledgment that effort was made, even if the intended results were not achieved. A gold star for trying.
It’s an expression that unfortunately keeps attaching itself to Dinolion’s forays into immersive theatrical experiences. We love the idea of their shows. We love that they’re the only company creating these types of performances. We even love that each iteration tries to differentiate itself from what’s come before.
But try as we might, we just don’t love the actual product. And The Rabbit Cage, now playing as an intended piece of Halloween entertainment, is perhaps the most disappointing we’ve experienced.
Here’s what we’re promised:
The Rabbit Cage is a unique haunt experience that re-imagines the conventions of a haunted house. The content of the show is adult and ominous.
Sounds cool, right? Add in the fact that attendees experience the performance solo and are given a waiver to sign that includes a disturbing content advisory (themes such as murder, rape, possession, loss, insanity, substance addiction, and rage), a list of potential trigger warnings (including physical contact, nudity, loud sounds, restraint, small spaces etc.) and a safe word that can be employed at any time to terminate the experience.
Unquestionably, not a show that everyone will want to participate in. But for those of us that do, it’s a total bummer that The Rabbit Cage not only doesn’t live up to its spooky promises but also takes many narrative and structural missteps along the way.
The biggest problem, as was the case in the last Dinolion show we reviewed, is that there’s no discernible storyline to follow or connection between experiences. Of the five scenes we’re escorted through, two are utterly indecipherable, two make some sense in that we comprehend what the actors are saying and asking of us and one, while featuring some lovely dance and interesting use of contact, is ultimately hollow.
It’s hard to feel creeped out when we’re constantly thinking: Huh?
Sure, the light is dim, the space at times disorienting, some of the actors look weird and do odd things, but that alone doesn’t cut it. Good immersive theater doesn’t just give you atmosphere, it makes your involvement mean something. And for it to mean something, you at least need some grasp of what the show is trying to offer you.
Then there's the structural issue with the piece.
Having us go through the show solo is a brilliant idea meant to amp our discomfort, however, when your experience keeps getting interrupted by other patrons bursting in, that sense of unease and eerie intimacy pretty much flies out the window.
Patrons enter The Rabbit Cage in five-minute intervals and without question that’s a lot of moving parts to coordinate. No doubt made more difficult by the fact that the show itself is only half an hour long. But, for example, if you’re going to ask people to disclose personal and potentially uncomfortable stories about supernatural experiences, it’s a total mood breaker when another patron is ushered in noisily midway through your tale.
If there is a disturbing element to The Rabbit Cage, unfortunately, it comes from the show’s decisions around nudity.
Since we haven’t the foggiest what any of the scenes are about, there’s an argument to be made that the nudity was wholly unnecessary, non-informative and merely a gimmick. But that’s not what’s so disappointing about it.
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The issue is that women are the only actors nude in the show, while the lone male is presented clad in his tighty-whities. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, (and to be clear, we aren’t given access to the reasons, so all we can do is react) it screams that women’s parts are an acceptable commodity to exploit for effect whereas men’s parts are off-limits.
That Dinolion is around and keeps taking swings at giving Houstonians' immersive experiences is laudable. Perhaps some people are satisfied that these shows always look cool and give them something different to do on a night out. I’ll not harsh their buzz.
But on behalf of those of us that know the allure and power of truly compelling immersive theater, I’ll once again say to the team at Dinolion, you can do better.
The Rabbit Cage continues through November 2 at Axelrad, 1517 Alabama. For infornation, visit eventbrite.com or dinolion.com. $25 to $60.