By Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Dusk (Anna Failla) and Dawn (Saige Smith) have come with dire warnings for the Earth and beyond in Sean Collier’s “Welcome to Moonside,” an immersive theater piece staged inside the former Lava Lounge in the Southside.
The aforementioned ghosts, Dusk and Dawn, whisk a select group of humans (i.e. theater patrons) to their realm. Some bad juju is going on and these ephemeral beings need help. The humans arrive in a dark, mystical realm, and a bevy of beautiful beings introduce themselves. There’s Still (Karen Forney), Never (Ashley McKinney), Chrono (Jennifer Dallas), Eve (Vanessa St. Clair) and Midnight (Tamara Siegert). They are ruled by their queen, the enigmatic Tempo (Hazel Leroy). Wandering on the periphery, Person (Bevin Baker), who is somewhere in between human and spirit, acts as our ghost host.
Moonside is an ethereal place – somewhere between broadcast stations on a radio dial – where spirits have corporeal weight.
It’s hard to say what “Welcome to Moonside” is. It is not an escape room, but it has some familiar escape room elements. It’s not a murder mystery either, but a mystery is afoot – and bodies are disappearing. It’s more of a jigsaw with pretty puzzle pieces. Are the spirits, muses, guardian angels or ghosts? It doesn’t matter.
While patrons will garner different bits of information by interacting with the individual spirits, there is a cohesive story. The interaction, however, opens the story up to some spontaneous and surprising moments.
There’s a slow chunk in the middle where it pays to ask questions and seek answers. The experience improves if you get involved. It will slow down for those who just wish to spectate the specters.
Spoiler: Fans of Vigilance Theater Group’s premier production, “Hollow Moon” will be rewarded with Easter eggs of continuity, but “Welcome to Moonside” is not a sequel. You don’t need to have seen one to see the other.
The characters are so well defined and drawn by Collier and the actor portraying each of them. The cast is terrific.
Each member of the ensemble gets a moment to shine. McKinney gets a beautiful moment when a trinket reminds her of a school dance.
Leroy’s Tempo struts around tenacity and verve.
Smith and Failla are effervescent as Dawn and Dusk. Their sheer joy is infectious.
Siegert has a stately and commanding presence. She is a regal and charismatic Midnight.
St. Clair’s Eve is darling, and she doesn’t have it easy. St. Clair has to recite Shakespeare and sing.
Ironically, Dallas, who has little to no dialogue (depending on the outcome of the show), hands in a seamless performance, communicating non-verbally with aplomb.
Maybe it’s the set. Maybe it’s the all-female cast. But there’s something about “Welcome to Moonside” that has a bit of “The Queen of Outer Space” vibe happening.
Kudos to director Renee Rabenold for staging another enjoyable immersive experience.
“Welcome to Moonside” runs until September 8 at the former Lava Lounge, 2204 East Carson Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For tickets, click here.