Third Rail Projects wastes no time in sweeping their audiences off the dirty streets of Bushwick and into the fold of their latest immersive world, The Grand Paradise. There are no tickets to The Grand Paradise, only boarding passes, and you’ll receive yours after checking in at the departures gate of their retro-fantasy airline. After a brief “in-flight” video on resort rules, you’ll disembark into the warm, indulgent terrace of the Grand Paradise resort. Crowded with sexy, sultry residents, the space is bedecked in tiki paraphernalia—fake palms, beaded curtains and a giant aquarium (indeed, every detail of the production design smacks of the culturally confused late 70s). It’s not long until you’re greeted by the swoon-worthy Siren (Elizabeth Carena) and your immersive adventure at The Grand Paradise begins.
Following their wildly popular show Then She Fell, artistic directors of Third Rail Projects (Zach Morris, Tom Pearson and Jennine Willett) have expanded their audience size and added elements of spectacle to their latest production. Yet despite the added glitz, Third Rail Projects still manages to afford all audience members the intimate moments that make this type of theater so thrilling. Certainly, not everyone is comfortable with audience participation, but Third Rail Projects has made audience involvement feel as fun and safe as possible. Around every corner of The Grand Paradise is an inviting situation that directly involves audience members (individually or in small groups). The best part about the immersive design of The Grand Paradise is that participants need only watch and listen, and they will be warmly invited into a wide variety of charming and thought-provoking situations. Audiences are instructed not to open closed doors, and there is no need to chase characters, or elbow to the front for a good view, which—for viewers like myself—is a frustrating aspect of popular participatory productions today.
The Grand Paradise keeps audiences entertained during their entire two-hour stay and, indeed, the ensemble cast is a veritable treasure trove of diverse talent. Each performer adds something unique to your experience, whether it be pondering the passage of time with the elusive Venus (Emma Hoette), topographically mapping your past and future decisions with the activities director (Alberto Denis), trashing hotel rooms with the mischievous Jett (Mayte Natalio), or tying nautical knots while at sea with the Libertine (Bryan Strimple). The truly outstanding moments of The Grand Paradise are when the theatrical experience conjoins itself with your own life—beckoning the contemplation of more universal themes of time, fate, love and loss.
Like many immersive companies practicing in New York (Punchdrunk and Journey Lab), Third Rail Projects incorporates a good deal of contact improvisation dance into their experiences. While this style of post-modern dance is beautiful, and physically demonstrates meaningful tension and release between characters, it has become rote for many immersive performance makers. There are moments when these sequences linger for too long, losing significance and becoming somewhat monotonous. Within the marvelous bigger picture of The Grand Paradise, the slightly lengthy improvisational dance scenes are a forgettable flaw.
Whether you are an amateur or seasoned immersive theater-goer, there is something for you at The Grand Paradise. The cohesive theme, remarkable talent and complex-yet-invisible immersive design make for a fun and refreshingly unique experience. While many immersive shows deconstruct existing pieces of literature such as Alice and Wonderland or MacBeth, The Grand Paradise creates a fascinating world of its own to which no parallel exists. Hold your breath and dive into Third Rail's The Grand Paradise.
The Grand Paradise plays in Brooklyn at 383 Troutman St. (between Irving and Wyckoff Aves.) through Sept.4. Must be 21 or older to attend. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing with pockets. Ticket prices vary and are available at http://thegrandparadise.com/tickets.