How does one even begin to write about a show that has touched their heart and changed them in such a profound way? Even now, days later, I am struck by a lack of words (my own personal Insect Goon, if you will) to even begin to describe the beauty that was “Yesterday, today and tomorrow,” the final installment of Sudden Loneliness Gift.
While this particular show was an overnight experience (starting on Sunday afternoon and with additional scenes the following day), my own personal journey with Sudden Loneliness Gift began way back in June. Over the course of six months, I was not only brought into this incredible story, but was also welcomed into a community that had already established itself during their previous season (of ‘Have You Seen Jake’). “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” not only gave us a satisfyingly heartbreaking conclusion to this particular story, but they also brought together a family of Seekers (the name given to those participating) who were there to comfort each other at its end.
In the story of Sudden Loneliness Gift, the creators of Have You Seen Jake, Kevin and Jason, were ready to begin their next story when Kevin unexpectedly passed. Throughout the course of Sudden Loneliness Gift, we were unaware of the circumstances of Kevin’s passing. Not only does that apply to us, the Seekers, but also to many of the characters involved, including Jason. Meta elements aside, losing a loved one is always tough. How devastating it must be to know that your husband is dead, but to not know the details surrounding it any longer? How painful must that memory be for you to extract it from your own head?
Throughout the course of the story, it was revealed that the characters, Jason in particular, took up the services of the Luna Company, a mysterious organization that can withdraw selected memories from your brain so you do not recall them. While this seems perfect to re-live great moments from your life, it is often used to erase tragedies from our past, as was the case here. As time went on, we also learned how some of us were also present for Kevin’s death, and had used the Luna Company’s services as well…without remembering doing so.
“Yesterday, today and tomorrow” was the conclusion to this months-long story, with Jason, and the rest of us Seekers, traveling to the Luna Company’s headquarters in Joshua Tree, CA to retrieve and re-live the memory of Kevin’s death…along with the consequences that came along with it.
The entire show was stage as a multi-site experience, spread across Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley. Each Seeker was given a personalize itinerary that, while daunting at first, provided the tapestry for their own narrative. Thankfully, some of us figured out early on that our schedules mirrored other people’s, and were able to carpool on this journey together. This actually worked to our advantage, because we were able to de-brief after each scene, and discuss what happened and what it meant.
However, as a point of clarification, just because we were in the same places at the same time does not mean that we shared the same scenes. Yes, there were times where people were grouped together during scenes, but there were also times when we were alone to experience things by ourselves…usually when it weaved hand-in-hand with your own personal narrative.
In a review for one of the other Sudden Loneliness Gift events, I commented on how Nocturnal Fandango, the company behind it, personalizes everyone’s story to make it their own. Not only do you keep your own narrative threads with some of the characters that inhabit this world, but these characters also have threads with you. They know your strengths, they know your weaknesses. They will remember you, and the interactions you have with them carry on. Sometimes, they are even conduits to help you work toward a catharsis for your own personal growth.
For example, I had a particularly personal storyline with the characters of Bossman and Rock Climber. A scene that unfolded for me in a previous event touched upon some personal issues of mine. Once the Organizers picked up on that, that thread continued through other shows and interactions. This wasn’t the driving force, of course, but a smaller side story that they weaved into their shows to personalize it toward me. And to help conclude that arc for me, during “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” they staged a scene to help me overcome said issue in their own unique way.
Quite honestly, it was more helpful to me than any form of therapy I had ever been to before. Whether or not they fully knew the extent of how much this was touching me in a personal way is unclear, the Organizers are quite good on picking up on body language and how people react to certain situations in order to give that back to you during your story. But just to clarify, while many participating in Sudden Loneliness Gift choose to expose personal things for use in the narrative much like I did, you did not have to do that to have a satisfying story with them.
Back to the main show overall, the pure logistics of “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” were mind-boggling, as there were multiple locations in which it took place. Over the course of the day, my travel companions and I drove to public locales for group dinners and get-togethers to places deep in the desert where cell reception was non-existent. This almost isolated feeling enhanced the show for me, as we were cut off from the outside world in a few ways, relying on our fellow Seekers to go through this together.
The backdrop of the desert also contributed to the overall beauty of the story, but that didn’t stop Nocturnal Fandango from adding unique touches to enhance it even more. A perfect example of this is when the character of Talula called me weeks ago, and told me she would be there to guide me through ‘the field’ when I finally came upon it. And then, this past week, that particular story bit came to fruition as the night sky gave way to a field filled with hundreds of candles, each representing the ‘light’ within us. While the scene itself was touching enough, the actual reveal of this field filled with lights was a beautiful moment that brought me to tears (just one of the many times during the course of the show).
But that’s to their credit that most of the scenes in “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” were much like that. Beautiful locations, with simple enhancements from their team, coupled with their characters made for fantastic stories. I’ve touched on this in other reviews, but the characters that inhabit this world are fully realized. At this point, they weren’t just characters in a show; they were old friends (or enemies) that we were meeting for the final time this week.
Not only does it help that they are fantastically written, but paired with the acting, these characters truly come to life. Not just during this show, but across the board for Sudden Loneliness Gift, the actors have been unbelievably incredible. Every single person involved in this show has been absolutely committed to their roles, and made these people, whether real or imagined, come alive in ways that I have never experienced before. There is not a bad link in this chain.
While I have been heavily invested into this story for months, it is worth mentioning that “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” was the first Sudden Loneliness Gift event for a few people, and they STILL had a wonderful time. For example, my friend and traveling companion for the day, Rachel, joined in just two weeks before this event. While I was able to give her a the reader’s digest version of what had transpired thus far, I didn’t expect her to remember it all. But regardless, the Organizers were still able to put on a complete story for her, and she walked away loving every moment of it. She was just one of a few people I spoke to who had similar experiences in this respect. Yes, “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” concluded a much longer storyline, it was also stand-alone enough for new comers to really enjoy it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t call out some particular folks whose performances truly stood out this past weekend. The first that comes to mind is Jordan Becker, whose story as Damien during “Yesterday, today and tomorrow” was one of the best. Re-visiting his character, and seeing what he had become, was incredible, especially during our final moments together. Mr. Becker really blew me away with all of his roles this year in the story, but Damien was a breathtaking act on its own.
Melissa Booey’s Buoy, a close friend to Jason and Kevin, was also a performance that touched me greatly. I’ve had many moments with Buoy throughout Sudden Loneliness Gift, and it always made me feel like we were old friends. She was a giving person, who only wanted what was best for her friends. Every laugh we shared, every moment of contemplativeness, all of it felt absolutely genuine, no matter how long or how little time we spent with her. Meeting up with Buoy at a saloon during a social gathering this weekend, it was great to catch up with her…but also heartbreaking to feel her pain. Miss Booey is a gifted performer, and I really appreciate her for that.
Jesse Bissen and Sara Witter as the sibling team of Veronica and Luke from the Luna Company were also a delight. While I initially did not trust these characters early on in the story, both Mr. Bissen and Miss Witter played with them absolutely delight. I loved how they played off of each other, and their interactions with us were always a highlight. Learning their tragic backstory was one of the biggest emotional moments for me. While in lesser skilled hands it would have come off as almost hokey, both Bissen and Witter gave incredible performances in revealing it that brought my group to tears.
I mentioned her earlier, but Daelynn Hutzenbieler’s Talula (also known as Acceptance) was someone I only spent a few minutes with while in the desert, but those few minutes were something I will remember for a long, long time. Not just because of the field of light, but also because of how empathic of a performer she is. During our scene, she saw me getting emotional, which made her get emotional, and it was just a touching moment overall.
I’m literally just listing every performer at this point it seems, so I will stop for the sake of saving time. But again, every single actor in this was absolutely fantastic, and I cannot thank them enough for such incredible performances. From seeing Olivia Buckle’s Ollie character grow from a lowly assistant to the full-fledged CEO of the Luna Company, to Paul Romero’s Finch emotional agony over the events that unfolded, to Celine Cely’s Death as an ever-present figure looming over us to learn more about ourselves, to Grant Firestone’s Anguish teaching us that we can never get rid of him but it’s up to us how we live with him, everyone in this cast is wonderful.
But I would be remiss if I did not touch upon Jason Davidson, Kevin Davidson, and Chelsea Morgan. Not only were they the Organizers of Sudden Loneliness Gift, they were also the focal characters of the story, the glue that held it all together. Jason’s dealing with Kevin’s death put him front and center for all of us, but feeling Kevin’s presence, and Chelsea’s steadfast friendship to both, truly made it more special. All three masterfully played their roles, which were really just meta-versions of themselves. They put their own personal lives on display here, and really bared their souls. It was really incredible to see them do this, and the story would not have been nearly as effective if not their dedication to their roles. All three did fantastic work.
“Yesterday, today and tomorrow” was everything we want immersive theater to be; thoughtful to its participants while also containing a story that connects to us in a way that makes it personal. There were moments, not just during this show but during the whole of Sudden Loneliness Gift, that it didn’t feel like a show. It felt like these people, these situations, these moments in time were really truly happening. That’s a testament to the writing, the performing, and the overall storyline.
The Sudden Loneliness Gift was just that; a gift. It was something that I didn’t expect to take hold of me in the way that it did, but once it did, I was very thankful to go along for the ride. These past six months involved in their world have truly been one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’m not just talking about immersive experiences, but experiences overall. My fellow Seekers in the community were not just friends, but turned into family, as we traveled along this road together. I made so many great new friends, along with getting closer to old ones. These connections will last a lifetime, and I am thankful for that.
From start to finish, Sudden Loneliness Gift was a beautifully crafted story that took me down paths I never knew existed, and helped me learn more about myself than ever before. It broke me, and it made me whole again. I truly believe it made me a better person. For that, I will be eternally thankful for.
The motto of the Luna Company comes to mind here: That which is fleeting, we keep forever. The experiences I went through during the course of Sudden Loneliness Gift may have been fleeting, just a few moments in time. However, the things I learned from it, about myself and about others, will be something I keep within me forever. Nocturnal Fandango truly did carry our hearts in their hearts, and made something truly special. Whatever path Nocturnal Fandango takes next, whatever story they choose to explore, I will absolutely be there to follow. I urge you to do the same.