Interactive storytelling and role-playing games have been tried in book form, in game software from the early days of home computers through now, in film/television and theater. Back in the 1980s, I owned a pair of interactive laserdiscs, The Mystery Disc, now all but forgotten. I even worked in interactive production myself.
True interactive entertainment experiences are few and far between because of their complexity. Sure, technology makes programming a branching story pretty easy: At each decision point, the user/player selects from two or more options. But then each option needs to be shot (or generated). Writers end up writing at least twice as much as for a linear program, and must plot the action so it all makes sense and ties up at all the possible endings. Actors have significantly more dialogue to learn and perform.
That’s why Romeo and Juliet Choose Your Own Ending, now playing at Santa Monica’s Morgan-Wixson Theatre, is so impressive. The script is a mashup of the Bard and the bawdy, with lots of action and anachronisms. It’s also extensive: The talented actors must memorize eight different pathways through the story, prepared for whatever choices the audience makes during rowdy decision points where a characters steps forward to call for a vote on a preferred plot twist. I saw the fourth show, and the fourth different pathway.
All actors perform with exuberance and panache. Romeo (Kalond Irlanda) and Juliet (Mirai) are compelling as the two teens drawn to each other. Garret Kinstler and Ariella Salinas Fiore steal scenes as multiple characters each.
The show, beautifully directed by Samantha (“T.S.”) Barrios, is fun and involving. Audience members are encouraged to yell out their support for a choice of action or lover. Will it be Juliet or Rosaline? Can we let go of everything we know about the star-crossed lovers and help find another way? As the program defines the set for Act II, Scene 1, “I don’t know…you tell me.”
The show, by Ann Fraistat and Shawn Fraistat, originated at the University of Maryland in 2010. It’s predicated on the fact that much of Romeo and Juliet plays as a comedy. The audience’s decisions address the debate between the supremacy of fate or choice in life. And the fabulous costumes (by Marlee Candell) take everything up a notch.
It’s not just the show that’s interactive. The whole Morgan-Wixson experience is friendly, from ushers who address you in Shakespearean language to signage both informative and hilarious. Perhaps that’s to be expected from a company with a strong history in children’s theater, as well as the ones for grownups. As this show proves, Morgan-Wixson-ites are welcoming or all ages.
Romeo and Juliet Choose Your Own Ending runs through August 28 at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica. Tickets are available at 8:00pm Friday and Saturday, 2:00pm Sunday for $15. Free parking is available at the Venice Free Clinic next door, 2509 Pico Boulevard.