Courtesy of Bottom of the Ocean
Dec 6, 2021
Immersive show ‘Bottom of the Ocean’ strikes a weird, very 2021 chord
The interactive experience in the basement of a church in Bushwick seems to want to shock more than entertain
“Bottom of the Ocean,” a new immersive show in Bushwick created to be performed for up to five audience members at once, is the oddest and perhaps most petrifying live-theater experience currently out there.
Is it memorable? Certainly. Unique? Yes. Absolutely frightening? You bet. Did it seem to have a point? Not really. Is it worth the $45-$100 price tag? Depends.
BOTO, as the experience is constantly referred to by the actors involved, is the third production from Andrew Hoepfner’s company Houseworld Immersive, this one created with multidisciplinary graphic designer Chia Kwa, featuring costumes by Laura Borys and tech design by Howard Rigberg.
Upon entering Gymnopedie, 5,500 square feet of restored basement in the 19th-century building that houses the Bushwick United Methodist Church, guests are asked to stand around a piece of wood hanging from the ceiling and begin chanting a mantra that touches upon themes of drowning and death.
After putting on parochial-like capes, patrons are then guided into a variety of dark rooms featuring eerie music and usually a single actor wearing some sort of facial covering.
Each space supposedly tackles themes related to ceremony and ritual life. In reality, it feels like a Halloween haunted house, with intense and talented actors continuously popping out of seemingly nowhere. The point of the journey gets a bit lost in a sea of unanticipated adrenaline.
In one of the rooms, for example, after being asked by one of the performers to face a dark wall and scream out the name “Little Gene,” the actress taking on the role of Gene suddenly taps on the guests’ shoulders, startling them. In another room, one of the artists spends almost 10 minutes covered in what looks like a sheet while on his knees, making ghost-like gestures and chanting sinister mantras while the guests stare on.
In short, iInstead of facilitating a sort of artistic therapy, allowing the guests to discover certain parts of themselves that are usually unlocked through exposure to art forms, the effect of the experience seems to simply evoke stupor.
Some portions of the immersive show do, however, resonate. In one of the rooms, for example, the actress on premise asks guests to recall a portion of the day that might have caused them pain and another instance during which they were the ones to cause someone else pain. She then offers them a piece of charcoal and a grinder-like machine, urging participants to grind what they have in hand, eventually declaring the episodes officially expunged and over with.That sort of forced introspection feels like what BOTO wants to be throughout but fails short at.
In another notable room, spectators are asked to enter a cave filled with balloons–stand-ins for memories. Upon prompts from the actor present, each guest is asked to reminisce about a specific portion of their past. The few minutes spent revisiting memories add a personal aura to the event lending it some sort of meaning that gets lost in other rooms.
I discussed a childhood spent overseas, in Europe, recalling how moving to the United States filled me with the sort of dread that morphed into sadness and eventually became excitement. My companion similarly remembered summer vacations in Israel and the freespirit-like quality of youth. “That sounds amazing!” the performer who led our journey kept repeating to us.
Overall, BOTO is unlike any of the other immersive theatrical spectacles that have landed on New York’s cultural scene. It is more intimate than “Sleep No More,” less traditional than “Speakeasy Times Square” and not as straightforward in its purpose as “Odd Man Out.” But that is the beauty of New York’s artistic landscape, where a whole lot of outlandish productions can co-exist and find a dedicated audience.
“Bottom of the Ocean” will be running at Gymnopedie, 1139 Bushwick Ave., into the 2022 for an undetermined length of time. Tickets are $45-$100.
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