Pour A Drink And Gussy Up For The Strange Secret Of Mr. Adrian Rook

Wesley Whitson as Mr. Adrian Rook, Secretary to the Raven Queen
Wesley Whitson as Mr. Adrian Rook, Secretary to the Raven Queen Photo by Haley E. R. Cooper

“We had a date night”, my husband declared excitedly as we stepped away from the computer screen and began to defrock ourselves of the flashy formal wear we’d been asked to don. He wasn’t wrong.

Sure, we hadn’t left our house, might not have been wearing much from the waist down, and were drinking our own champagne, but somehow attending Strange Bird Immersive’s new interactive online show, The Strange Secret of Mr. Adrian Rook felt like a special occasion.

Was it theater? No, not really. But then Strange Bird has never produced straight ahead theatrical pieces. Was it an escape room game with a dash of the dramatic like their previous hit show, The Man From Beyond: Houdini Séance Escape? No, not that either. Probably way too difficult to take that type of genre online.

Instead what we got, along with the other folks attending the show with us (eight screens in total), was a 90-minute live online mystery-style narrative (conceived and written by company co-Artistic Directors J. Cameron and Haley E. R. Cooper) that allowed everyone, actors and participants, to see, speak and zoom-chat with each other in order to discuss clues and solve a mystery.

In this case, the strange disappearance of Mr. Adrian Rook, Secretary to the Raven Queen.

While the characters and events we witness are delightfully odd (this is a Strange Bird show after all) the format for the experience is fairly straight forward. Under the guise of an open house, participants visit six proprietors of various businesses within the Strange Bird office complex, each popping up in their own separate zoom meeting for us to easily click on. All the tenants know Mr. Rook, are distressed by his absence and, if you’re paying attention, offer some clue as to what could have happened to him.

We spend about 15 minutes with each character, mostly listening, occasionally answering or asking questions, and often just enjoying the performance. Or trying to.

Anyone who's spent enough hours in the theater knows that technical issues can hit a show at any time. Make the show wholly reliant on technology, and well, there’s bound to an oopsie once in a while. In our case, a poor Wi-Fi connection meant that one of the six characters was pretty much wholly unintelligible to us.

Of the characters we did spend time with, not all of the performances and narratives were equally satisfying. Our 15 minutes with Whiskey and Welding owner, Brendan O’Neil (J. Cameron Cooper) whizzes by thanks to his quirky Irish-accented charm and easy rapport with the camera. He wants to share a drink again with Mr. Rook, frankly, we’d like to stick around and drink with him.

Likewise, it’s impossible to resist the tarot reading allure of Madame Daphne (Haley E. R. Cooper) as she tells our future and pouts that Mr. Rook has missed several of her sessions. Yes, yes…. Mr. Rook… we know…but Daphne can you tell us when all this COVID nonsense will be over or please just stay with us for a bit longer so we can forget about all the crap out there?

Not quite as polished, but still enjoyable was our time with Speakeasy owner Vivian Mae (Amanda Marie Parker), and dream scientist Dr. Riley E, Newmark (Lexie Jackson). A hesitant performance or perhaps ill-placed camera seemed to fluster Parker at times, breaking the spell whereas Jackson’s narrative was a tad clunky in structure, mildly undermining an otherwise game performance.

But, quibbles, as they say. A good time was still heartily being had.

As for the mystery itself, take it from me, it’s not overly difficult. I mean really, take it from me as shockingly I was the one in our group who figured out what happened to poor Mr. Rook and trust me, I’m not usually good at these things. Or maybe there were several endings and the Strange Bird folks just threw me a bone. Either way, I’m taking all the credit and remain utterly chuffed.

Besides, by the time we finally get to meet Mr. Rook (a deliciously expressive Wesley Whitson) we’re ready for things to be solved and he does so with great elegant flourish.

That’s the beauty of The Strange Secret of Mr. Adrian Rook, it doesn’t really matter if something goes wrong or if the mystery resolution isn’t complex. We don’t need perfection, we need experience. We need something entertaining, exciting, and fresh that we can share in real-time with our friends and strangers, feeling as close to in-person as we can get.

What we needed, and resoundingly got, was a shared date night with the folks at Strange Bird. If that isn’t worth drinking your own hooch and gussying up for a bit, I don’t know what is.

The Strange Secret of Mr. Adrian Rook continues Saturdays through October 10. For information, visit $30.
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Jessica Goldman was the theater critic for CBC Radio in Calgary prior to joining the Houston Press team. Her work has also appeared in American Theatre Magazine, Globe and Mail and Alberta Views. Jessica is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
Contact: Jessica Goldman