Texas Tech’s inventive ‘Canterville’ will have you on your feet … because you have no choice

“The Canterville Ghost” was the first work by writer Oscar Wilde to be published, specifically a short story told in two parts in 1887 in a magazine called The Court and Society Review. The comic horror tale has been adapted for the stage more than once and also was adapted into a radio drama, an opera and numerous television and feature films. Charles Laughton and Patrick Stewart starred in the 1944 and 1996 adaptations, specifically.

Yet I believe I can guarantee that nothing close to the immersive theatrical experience presently provided by the Texas Tech School of Theatre & Dance has ever before been attempted.

Is it for everybody? Perhaps not. For example, the audience is rarely given an opportunity to even be seated.

On the other hand, this is indeed an artistic piece and not one that visitors to Tech’s off-campus “Canterville” are likely ever to forget.

Theatergoers first gather at Tech’s Maedgen Theatre, where they are introduced to the first characters and offered some background, the essence being that an American minister named Otis offers to buy an abandoned household called Canterville Chase, only to be warned it’s haunted. The minister, eager to move in with his wife and children, says that’s fine, he will take ownership with furniture and ghosts alike. Those ghosts include Simon de Canterville, who may have murdered his own wife.

Ticket holders leave the Maedgen and are guided outdoors to a bus, which transports them to a nearby house. This abode, quite obviously, is inhabited by a plethora of spirits – some sad, several seemingly quite angry.

From the front sidewalk, where passengers are greeted by the silent Otis family, all can view a series of deaths – murders, it would seem – being reenacted behind curtains in the home’s second story windows.

And from there, the immersion begins.

With immersive theater, there is no stage. The audience is introduced to a site-specific location, in this case the house, and then is allowed to observe – or take part in – a number of scenes within. The ghosts which one sees generally seem to range from the angry or threatening to the sad.

“Canterville” is devised and directed by Randall Rapstine, and the story, as it were, is meant to show young Virginia Otis and her family encountering the ghost of Sir Simon de Canterville, who lost none of his ham-like qualities when he died centuries beforehand.

Sir Simon provides an introduction to gender, sexuality and horror within the house.

“It is an experience that combines physical storytelling and movement in a way audiences have not seen on Lubbock stages. We have a beautifully diverse cast that works seamlessly to tell a story. (The play’s) ‘create your own adventure’ style stays true to the themes of the Wilde source material,” said Rapstine.

The large ensemble cast includes characters played by Virginia Fuentes, Grayson Bradshaw, Keandra Hunt, Juan Madrigal, Molly Glueck, Ainsley Bower, Logan Smith, Christie Connolly, Terall Miller, Cory Lawson, Christian Ruiz, Hannah Turell, Alexa Teleki, Lauren Robinson, Helen Jennings, Lauren Karichu, Gracie Wilson, Ethan Beam, Paul Kortemier, Alec Gallardo, Lauren Voigt and Kyla Olson.

Yet, for the audience to follow a story, one would have expected each to follow a shared path and view action in at least semi-chronological order.

Whereas, at this “Canterville,” when theatergoers depart the bus and are invited to enter the house, some may first file into a garage for eerie goings-on, while others will follow a spirit to a backyard swimming pool area where quite different spirits reveal a different confrontation even in light of day.

Mind you, an hour later, all will share the same climax in the front yard.

But during those 60 minutes inside the home, one is consistently impressed by performance art which showcases a truly amazing combination of makeup, costumes, lighting, choreography and, yes, acting – including those spirits present only to show guests where they can and cannot tread and when it is time for them to change locations for a new adventure.

A combination of souls at times approach others in a frightening, aggressive manner, only to fall together into eerie patterns of human corpses.

At other times, a male strikes out aggressively toward a woman, only to be shocked when female spirits refuse to act subdued and react in quite similar fashion.

This is theater both adventurous and imaginative, exhilarating in that it is new and boasts no obvious, predictable conclusion.

Regardless, some may feel they want to follow a planned story. Having been immersed in no certain order and with dialogue almost absent, one could understand if the majority might leave impressed, but desiring more discussion.

Word of the fascinating new project spread quickly.

General admission tickets are $15 for adults and $5 for Tech student with valid IDs. However, only a limited number remain, with officials expecting advance sellouts for visits to this haunted house at 7:30 p.m. Saturday through Sunday, May 3-5. To purchase tickets, call 742-3603 or visit theatre.ttu.edu online.