Last Friday, the Willows family welcomed me into their home to for a celebration. During the course of the evening, relationships were formed, laughs were shared, secrets were revealed…and some sort of dark forces were at play. By the end of my two and a half hour journey, I left their home with a foreboding sense of wonder, a desire to know more, and a different perspective on the relationship to my own family.
Before I get into the nitty gritty of this review, let me say this: Go see The Willows. The latest show from the minds behind Creep LA is a masterpiece of storytelling, combining dinner theater, immersive theater, and exploration into a show that will leave you thinking about it for days.
The evening began with a chauffeured ride, of sorts, to their homestead, located in Los Angeles. From the moment you step out of the car, you are thrown into the story. Uncle Ricky, everyone’s favorite uncle, is there to greet you, asking for help with the groceries, already throwing you into the story. If you happen to glance at the balcony just before you enter, you may even be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the lady of the home herself, quietly observing the proceedings with eyes that pierce into your soul.
Once inside, you can see just how grand the home actually is. A sense of elegance is the best way I can think of to describe it…old money lives here, and while things may seem wonderful on the service, the sense of foreboding that strikes you as soon as you step in will be overwhelming.
Not much is revealed about the story before entering into their estate; you just know that a celebration is to be had. Finding out the actual reason why you are there is entirely up to you, as a guest in their home, to find out on your own. Revealing it here would ruin the fun.
In fact, this speaks to one of The Willows’ strongest points; while there is a story to be had, you are NOT beat over the head with it. Instead, depending on whom you talk to and what ‘track’ you wind up on, your perspective of the story will be entirely different from other guests. What each member of the family feels about the evening’s events are subtly revealed over time. There are no grand monologues, no handholding, no prologue to set anything up. Instead, things evolve very naturally, through snippets of dialogue between you and the characters, overhead conversations that happen throughout the home…and of course, through some wonderfully performed one-on-one interactions.
And that’s really where The Willows shines; the fantastic characters interactions. Everyone in the family has their own secrets, their own quirks, their own things to reveal to you as time goes on. In the beginning, you can observe and interact with the family in their natural, almost chaotic state, as some rush to get ready for the evening, others are ready to pour you a drink, and still some are just trying to fit in. Each is fully realized and has their own, wonderful story to tell. Will you hear all of it during the one evening? No, of course not. But what you do learn is enough to piece it together on your own, and form your own opinions.
After years of doing these types of events, I have to say that The Willows has some of the best damn actors I have ever encountered. They are not just people playing roles; they ARE the Willows family. The way they interact with each other is truly amazing, and reveals much about their own relationships. But when you get one of them alone, having private conversations is really where things get incredible. Even when you break off into smaller groups, following a family member to whatever destination they take you, everyone fully inhabits their roles.
While everyone in the cast is beyond phenomenal, there are a few notable stand outs. The first that comes to mind is Aly Trasher as Claudia. I spent a good amount of time with her, and watching her character slowly peel back more or her complex layers was a feat to behold. Watching her emotionally unravel, from the moment she first poured me a drink until the moment I caught one final glimpse of her as I left the house, was incredible. She is truly an incredible actress, and, through our conversations, definitely one I connected with on a personal level. In shows like this, that is very important, and she did a masterful job.
Jacob Miller’s Conrad was also a triumph in character work. His mannerisms and ticks were so strange, yet so boldly calculated, that it was almost like watching a caricature come to life. But that doesn’t mean he’s cartoonish in anyway…he is very down to Earth, despite his fantastical personality.
Though I didn’t spend much time with her during this most recent showing, Noelle Urbano’s Angela was someone I did thoroughly enjoy when I saw the preview a few weeks back. Her Wednesday Addams-vibe shines through, making the words ‘flirtatiously creepy’ spring to mind. Making people feel both at home and unease in the same sentence is no small task, but she is quite good at it.
Of course, I have to mention the fantastic Melinda DeKay as Mrs. Rosemary Willows. She is just…wow. I’ve said it too many times already, but to say anything else would ruin it for you. Just know that the matriarch is truly a force to be reckoned with.
I also had some wonderful moments with the other folks in the cast, including Roy Abramsohn, Roy Allen, and Deirdre Lyons. As mentioned before, all perfectly inhabited their roles, and made me truly believe they WERE these characters. In fact, something unscripted happened when I spent some time with Mr. Allen, and he was so good at playing it off that I actually thought it was part of the show! It wasn’t until later that I realized that it wasn’t, so a hat tip to him for that.
Again, to say much more beyond that would spoil the fun. This is a show of exploration and observation. Don’t be shy. Conversation is your friend, and will reward you with a better understanding. Different branches of the story can open up, depending on how you approach certain situations and conversations, so be sure to keep your ears (and eyes) open.
Speaking of keeping all your senses open to the things around you, I don’t just mean with the family. The house itself holds many secrets. Sometimes, you might see something that you cannot explain…fleeting images of people as they walk amongst the halls or appear at windows. Further inquiry about such sights only leads to bewildered looks or hushed whispers of “That happens here sometimes…”
The ‘here’ is the lovely home of Willows’ family. Their estate is a character in of itself, featuring more atmosphere packed into its rooms than most experiences can ever hope to accomplish. What is also fascinating about it is that it actually IS someone’s home. The cast and crew of The Willows take over this stately manor and make it into their own. Honestly, already having this feeling of a family living there full time, their history all around you, adds so much more to the show, giving the home a very “lived in” sensation.
The Willows is incredible, and there really is no other way to put it. It reels you in with its incredible characters, wonderfully creepy story, and will live inside your head for day, and maybe even months, to come. The show also offers an incredible repeatability factor, with multiple tracks to follow, allowing you to see it multiple times and get an entirely different experience. I have now seen the show twice, for a dress rehearsal and in its completed form, and was amazing at how vastly different both evenings were…in the best way possible.
For those who are worried about scares, The Willows is definitely not the kind of thing where you will have people jumping out at you around corners. It has much more of a creepy vibe to it, allowing an aura of unease to build the more time you spend within the home. Of course, it reaches a perfect crescendo at the end. You may, of course, be scared at moments, however, their purpose is not to frighten you. But do prepare to be thoroughly creeped out at times.
There has been some talk about the high price point, but I have to tell you, it is worth every penny of its $125 ticket. In addition to a full two and a half hours of madness, the drinks are constantly flowing and there is a nice spread of food throughout the night. But really, the show definitely is well worth your investment. You are not just there observing, you become part of the family. You are not a passive ticker holder, you are an active member invited into the Willows’ home to partake in this celebration.
Just Fix It Productions and the Creep LA team really, really, really have something incredible on their hands here. This is a show that people will talk about for years to come. Despite how incredible the first two years of Creep LA were, I am confident in saying that The Willows is what will make this team blow up even further. New York City may have Sleep No More, but here in LA, we have The Willows…and frankly, I believe we have the better option.
I’d tell you to buy tickets right now, but the next few shows that have been announced have already sold out. The next round of tickets for June will be announced later on this month, and I urge you to jump on their mailing list to get first crack at them. In addition to that, pay close attention here because in the next few weeks, we will have a special announcement for an exclusive evening with the Willows family.
Go see this show. You will not regret it.
For more information on The Willows, visit www.CreepLA.com