Approaching the doors of Williamsburg’s historic San Damiano Mission, I felt for a moment that I stood on the threshold of a revelation. Alone in the rectory’s courtyard, a robed quasi-biblical woman had just washed my hands while singing to me gently. Now I rang an old bell, summoning a glowering cook (Salvatore Musumeci) from the manse’s kitchen. He grudgingly let me in, handed me a bread knife, and sent the washerwoman scurrying.
But once inside Houseworld, an immersive theater event created by Andrew Hoepfner (with Mike Campbell), the thrill of discovery quickly diminishes. With other participants, I wandered through various small rooms inhabited by youthful performers trying hard to look creepy or mad as a Wonderland hatter. We played a board game without rules. We hunted for key objects mentioned by the house’s inhabitants. We visited dungeons and attics and spent time with a Bathtub Guru (Joe Crow Ryan), until eventually we were guided into a shared space for some transcendental healing.
As immersive theater (clearly inspired by the far more visually sophisticated Sleep No More), Houseworld falters. Most individual encounters don’t lead to much: Many of the performers seemed unsure what we were doing together, and these tentative qualities set the evening adrift. But then, drifting isn’t such a bad place to be, if it leads to the unexpected. Some of my fellow spectators reveled in the haunted-house setup — a party as much as a show, helped by pizza and Brooklyn ales. The evening is offered in an appealing spirit of laid-back generosity, even if Houseworld stays too self-complacent to fulfill its intimations of the extraordinary.
Created by Andrew Hoepfner
San Damiano Mission
85 North 15th Street, Brooklyn