Dallas — The front of Tacos Mariachi looks no different than it otherwise would on a Saturday night. There are no signs for Holy Bone, Dead White Zombies’ latest “immersive performance initiation.” Tickets purchased from the website only indicate that groups of up to six will leave from here every 10 minutes. But without any sign, you’re tempted to wonder if you’re lost.
Maybe you are.
That’s the sort of the mind game that plays throughout the evening’s experience conceived as always by theatre daredevil Thomas Riccio, developed with his zombies and, this time, co-directed with Shelby-Allison Hibbs. This is what they do. They can take a taco joint and with the suggestion of an event, make you begin to question everything. There goes your comfort zone. They can walk you through dodgy neighborhoods accompanied only by strangers. They can get you to stand in abandoned Trinity Groves warehouses alone. When a helpful someone asks you if you’re lost, the answer plays easily between the literal and metaphorical.
Aren’t we all lost? Metaphorically?
But that’s just the low-hanging fruit. Any art lover is primed to see the metaphorical. Only Dead White Zombies would put so much effort into taking the audience to the next level: the literal. And by virtue of that make the experience personal. Though the audience goes in groups, several of the locations (that range across the Trinity Groves neighborhood) have experiences that are designed for one person at a time. There are soothsayers, interrogators, and shamanistic therapists that all push for your authentic participation in the journey. Some of the events allow for passive witness, but most do not. It’s a haunted house approach to self-help. Only they’ve replaced jump-scare with jump-care. If that is not your cup of tea, be warned, Dead White Zombies steep a strong brew.
Like any haunted house or murder mystery dinner theatre, audience participation is a double-edged sword. There’s just no telling how people will react. Some take the evening as an opportunity for self-reflection and expansion. Others want to break other boundaries. The company you keep will have an enormous impact on your evening. Consequently, the performers have wide discretion to tailor their performances. In their improvised text, the fine line between profundity and pabulum might get crossed a few times, but the intention underneath seems noble nonetheless. Some performers may click with you or your group and some may not. In our grouping, Jennifer Culver, Hilly Holsonback, Abel Flores and Baliee Rayle seemed the most engrossed in the project and consequently in us. There’s plenty of time to share impressions of the performances in particular and the evening as a whole as you travel together on your separate journeys.
There are no comfy seats, glossy playbills or curtain calls. They’ve long jettisoned those theatrical touchstones. Though there are scenic elements, they occur in concert with their environment like art installations taking advantage of the buildings, the neighborhood and even the time of day. The dusk night sky lends itself to stunning visuals of downtown in particular. The immersive environments allow for more varied sensory input than traditional theatre. Soundscapes are employed in many of the locations with an emphasis on blurring boundaries of the noise of the environs be they physical or mental. In one stunningly vast room, the quiet was engulfing on the night I walked through. In another, the source of sound was moved around the audience instead. There are locations that traffic in olfactory overload like incense. Sprinkled along the way are interactive moments from the tactile to taste (homebrew Ginger Ale, Anyone?). Be ready for anything. You’ll need more than sensible shoes for this journey.
Even on returning another night, this is a singular experience that can’t be repeated.
For devotees of this sort of thing, it’s enough to make a special trip to Dallas. Where the journey takes them from there depends on how lost they are.
Or, are willing to be.