It’s true that a crisis can often spur creativity. In the case of Urbanite Theatre, basically shut down for months during a viral pandemic, co-artistic director Brendan Ragan was driven to do something he’d been wanting to for a while—delve into the world of immersive, interactive theater. That’s what he’s done with Safe House, a world premiere experience that draws a handful of audience members at a time to enter the company’s reorganized downtown space to solve a mystery by following some cryptic digital clues.
There is no theater seating for this show, and there are no onstage performers. Rather, you—and ideally a puzzle-solving partner, but no more than four people at a time—enter the doors to find the “safe house” of the title, where a cybersecurity expert named Fletcher (Chris Hayhurst) urgently beckons you to help him discover what’s happened to his missing wife Ava (Krystal Millie Valdes). Both actors are seen virtually only, with footage produced by Shaun Greenspan and Triforce Pictures.
You see, both Fletcher and Ava work for the same megacorporation, which has found a way to dive even deeper than we’re already used to into consumers’ lives and purchasing habits. Fletcher created the program that enabled the company to do that, but he’s been having second thoughts about it, wanting to destroy his own brainchild to prevent it from being misused. Ava’s been working in public relations for the company, so you have to wonder where her true loyalties lie—with her hubby or with her bosses.
When you arrive inside, the trail of clues begins. You’ll see a lot of old computer innards, used phones, boxes and assorted junk stacked on shelves. The farther you travel along your path (and it’s kind of amazing how the small Urbanite space has been utilized), you’ll also stumble across computer keyboards, a multitude of screens, and such tantalizing tips as a police evidence log, a desk drawer holding miscellaneous items like scissors and yarn, a cabinet stocked with photos of the once-happy couple and lots more.
Meanwhile, you’ll also encounter Fletcher and Amy talking to you separately from their screens, and eventually in a scene together, as the crisis builds. Ragan has structured the show so that you wear plastic gloves throughout to touch the props (handy during a pandemic) and can call loudly for a “clue” anytime you feel you need one. Otherwise, you’re on your own—with your fellow guest or guests—to navigate the storyline and make choices that can lead to different endings.
I won’t spill more than that about the plot or clues, but suffice it to say that it does provide an intriguing 35-minute or so experience, with enough twists to keep your mind occupied, and that Hayhurst and Valdes are convincing and compelling in their roles. All in all, it’s a fun way to spend your time before moving on to dinner somewhere to argue over the decisions you made along the way.
Safe House officially opens Friday, Feb. 26, and continues through April 4, and there are multiple screenings at convenient times. Call (941) 321-1397 or go to urbanitetheatre.com to learn more and book tickets.