When we’re led outside to the lakefront on a cool autumn night, I’m shuddering with excitement. We’re brought to a woman in white staring out over the water and invited to join her as she looks out over the darkness, where the murmuring of waves on the shore sound like many whispers clashing together. She’ll soon lead us inside the Berger Park North Mansion, located in the Edgewater community, in its antique splendor. History oozes from the walls of this beautiful old house as we walk from room to room to watch the play unfold.
Adapted from Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” Cock and Bull’s “Lecherous Honey” explores the shadowy parts of sexuality and lust as well as the feeling of want, or need, after losing loved ones. Pivoting around Helene Alving (Meg Elliott) and the return of her prodigal son (Benjamin Ponce) after eight years abroad, we watch the family and their friends unravel before us.
“Lecherous Honey” possesses masterful ambience. It transports us and transforms the rooms we walk into. The spectacles inside (an indoor take on the Aurora Borealis hangs overhead) are truly magical and awe inspiring. It was easy to not question their reality with such powerful tools of world-building on display.
On the other hand, when it’s not invoking your senses, “Lecherous Honey” can very easily disengage and become a one-way conversation. The show is highly cerebral, both in the way it explores its subjects (the aforementioned spectacles are arcane, sometimes mystical and elucidating, sometimes alien and confusing) as well as the emotional reality it constructs. The narratives are hallucinatory and the melodrama is blended with delusion, often without showing how the two qualities feed into each other. While intellectually engaging, it’s a tough show to watch and easy to tune out.
Beyond that, the practical problem of immersive theater rears its ugly head: the audience stalls and stumbles from room-to-room, uncertain of what story they’re meant to follow. When emotionally invested, it’s easy to get drawn down the path. But here, it’s only a vague curiosity that pulls us through.
I’ll be seeing the play again. There’s a lot to parse out and I’m curious enough. If you go, stay vigilant. If you focus for a second you might as well lose it for an hour. (Jay Van Ort)
Cock and Bull Theatre at the Berger Park North Mansion, 6205 North Sheridan, (773)761-0376, cockandbulltheatre.org. $15-$25. Through November 12.