Welcome to Fantasy Island—which, it turns out, is located in a Bushwick warehouse. Forget “Da plane! Da plane!” To get here, you need the L train.
It’s in this converted space where Third Rail Projects, the immersive and experiential dance-theater company behind the long-running hit “Then She Fell,” has set up its latest piece, “The Grand Paradise," about one repressed family’s trip to a tropical resort in the late 1970s.
During the two-hour performance, much of which audiences spend shuffling between rooms, we follow the goings-on of the nuclear quintet, who have arrived with vague notions of wanting to cut loose and party. Theatergoers are alternately voyeurs and participants in the family’s dark or erotic altercations.
Arrivals “checking in” at 383 Troutman St. are greeted in a foyer by polyester-clad flight attendants and handed a boarding pass for a flight on “Finis Air.” In groups of 10 or so, we watch a video, with an oily host who warns us not just to turn off our phones, but to avoid “inappropriate” behavior while mingling with members of the troupe.
“Inappropriate” behavior? During “The Grand Paradise,” I was lured into a pillow fight with one towel-wrapped performer, who then lured me into bed. We cuddled.
No theatergoers experience the same show. Some, after the show ended, spoke of having received massages. At one point, my wrists were dabbed with lavender perfume … then I was sealed in a coffin. My companion, separated from me for half the evening, instead participated in someone else’s funeral.
Early on, audience members (30 or 40, in all) were free to wander around spaces at the makeshift resort, which include a bar and a nightclub. After a while, the actors steered us assertively into certain rooms, in smaller groups.
At the bar, I had my first extended one-on-one interaction with an actor, “the dad” (Erik Abbott-Main, at the performance I attended). He motioned me over to an adjacent stool and was soon showing off photos of earlier family vacations, to Disneyland and Hawaii. The actor was quick-witted when I asked what year he’d gotten married: “1965,” he said.
The performers (some, veterans of Punchdrunk’s interactive “Sleep No More”) are clearly prepared to deal with extroverts or introverts. You can, I suppose, go through “The Grand Paradise” without uttering a word to an actor. But what would be the fun in that?
As the evening progressed, several parallel storylines played out. “Dad” became occupied with a couple of gorgeous sprites, who seduced him into a bath. “Mom” (here, Tori Sparks) explored inklings of lesbian feelings, exchanging clothes with a cabaret singer.
A young man, the boyfriend of one of their daughters, has a perceived sexual encounter with a cabana boy—we witness it from behind wooden shutters in a cabana, where we’re with one other random audience member … and gee, that can get weird for a dozen reasons.
The Third Rail team has gone to extreme effort to evoke the time during which the production is set. One room had an Atari, a collection of Tom of Finland postcards and some LPs: Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours,” and “The Best of Dolly Parton.”
Actors’ monologues generally revolve around the idea of fate, the passage of time, and whether we’re using our own finite lives to the fullest. The idea comes across more potently in some of the set dance pieces, rather than in the participatory parts of the evening.
Ticket prices range from $95-$150, probably too steep for experimental theater of this sort, though one can only guess at the permitting and design costs involved. (Some of the budget was raised off a Kickstarter campaign.) These things generally go off better with a bit of liquor; that didn’t transpire.
I had a good time at “The Grand Paradise,” hokey and heavy-handed though it could sometimes be. The Third Rail team is admirably skilled at provoking you to a reaction, even if what you remember most is feeling vaguely uncomfortable and insecure.
“The Grand Paradise,” at 383 Troutman St., Brooklyn. Tickets, $95-$150, are currently on sale through March 16. Visit TheGrandParadise.com.