I was in a man’s bathroom in WWII-era Hoboken, New Jersey, watching a woman wrap her hair and smile intensely at herself, excited by her extramarital affair. I wondered when she’d see me. And then she did. She gazed at me with a specific warmth, took my hand in hers, and slipped the engagement ring off of her finger and into my palm. “Hold on to this for the next five minutes and do not leave my sight,” she demanded. I gleefully didn’t.
This odd and thrilling intimate moment was one of many at Seeing You, an immersive theatrical experience cocreated by Ryan Heffington (Sia’s imaginative choreographer) and Randy Weiner (creator of Queen of the Night, producer of Sleep No More) and playing at a gallerylike open studio underneath the High Line. Overall, this show about the fear, racism, and repression hiding behind the shiny facade of patriotism falls in line with the better experiences in the burgeoning genre of interactive, largely non-narrative immersive theater.
The “entry” is easy to find; just follow the jittery crowd outside tall, blacked-out windows. You almost immediately walk into a choose-your-own-adventure tableau of scenes that immersive theatergoers know too well at this point. Be a good audience member and gravitate toward the one that attracts you most; I was naturally drawn to a brooding woman inside a phone booth who dragged me across the open space to meet her brother. He confided in me that he’s love with a girl, and that exact girl soon joined us. Get involved, because with these types of experiences, you get out what you put in.
Audience members are literally ushered through the next few sequences: a central announcement, a loud bandstand party, and—to the delight of immersive fans—a crazy strobe-lit dance party set to industrial-electro-metal. You may see a supercampy surprise drag burlesque number or a bloody underwear performance, depending on the path you’ve chosen. Then before you know it, the fun comes to a sharp conclusion. Grab your things; you’re out that fast (perhaps before you trip and hurt yourself on the broken shards of the fourth wall?). The show is small and short, but lovably so.
The music—possibly my favorite feature of these performances, both in creating my own and witnessing others’—is fantastic here: 1950s songs plus anachronistic modern folk/romantic pop (my friend Sarah swears she heard Mazzy Star), plus some strange instrumentals. Fans of Oscar-nominated composer Mica Levi (Jackie) will hear a treat or two. The same goes for the lighting: It’s perfect, resourceful in how it separates scenes through visual cues and acts as a divider. Heffington’s signature choreography is certainly recognizable and impactful, too.
Big scenes stand out—a hyper-menacing fight where the ensemble shoves a huge circular table around the room while screaming; a war conveyed through creative shadows; a full-spectacle USO show—but the best moments are those that are intimate. I got “close” (as an audience member) with characters played by Heather Lang, as a tall, boozy blonde swan, not unlike Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, and Nicholas Ranauro, as a closeted soldier. Both of them bestowed gifts upon me: the lively one-on-ones (the term for the direct actor-audience interactions that are the hallmark of immersive theater), a few take-home props, and genuinely moving drama.
Why You Should Go: Fans of the past five years of experimental interactive theater are likely to love this new spin, combining unique techniques with emotional characters. Make sure to sign up for the early slot for an extra bit of exploration at the start.
450 West 14th Street (between Washington Street and Tenth Avenue), Meatpacking District
Through Sunday, August 6
Tickets start at $80
We hope we’ll be seeing you in Chelsea this summer.