Magic and A/C: Walking Shadow’s puzzle/play 'Cabal' is pretty cool

Dan Norman

Dan Norman

Blame the Adepts of the Peacock. Something has gone terribly wrong in the magical world of Walking Shadow Theatre Company’s Cabal. It’s a little unclear exactly what, but it seems that the members of a certain sect have dabbled with powers they should have left alone, and now it’s your problem.

Yes, yours. Cabal comes billed as “a play with puzzles,” now open for an indefinite run in a custom-designed space at the northeast Minneapolis arts complex that’s been home to the Haunted Basement for the past two years. (This year, the Haunted Basement is heading to Rosedale.) You stay above ground for Cabal, but that doesn’t mean you won’t do any digging in the dirt.

Walking Shadow, known for its strong productions of conventional plays at venues across the Twin Cities, has previously crafted two of these interactive entertainments, starting with a popular show at the 2006 Fringe Festival. As a press release proudly notes, that long preceded the current puzzle-room boom, so project lead David Pisa can justifiably consider himself an old hand at this.

As outdoor thermometers topped 90 degrees on Sunday afternoon, the prospect of retreating into an ostensibly firelit (but actually air-conditioned) study seemed incredibly appealing, whatever dark secrets might lurk therein. Ten initiates gladly grasped a staff and swore allegiance to the Order of the White Stag, not to be confused with the imbibers of the White Claw so often active on Lake Minnetonka.

Cabal is not just a puzzle room but a series of puzzle rooms, and successes unlock gateways to previously unseen environments. Each striking space was created by Pisa with dozens of collaborators, including a lighting designer (Megan Reilly), a sound designer (Isabel Patt), and specialists like Sam Boswell (“white stag skull artisan”) and Whittney Streeter (“gramophone modification”).

Playwright John Heimbuch wrote the script, based on a story conceived with Pisa, and directed the two characters who initiates meet along their journey. On Sunday, actors Tara Borman and Jamie Case brought complete commitment to their roles as White Stag believers who guide initiates (that would be you) on a quest to learn the secrets of their cabal.

From a dramatic standpoint, the challenge with a project like this is to keep an audience invested in a story when concrete tasks keep, as it were, breaking the spell. While you’re watching a bunch of latter-day Minnesotans in sport shorts run around a room sorting runes, it’s easy to forget about the missing mage, and it can even be hard to keep a straight face when the ultra-sincere actors treat the whole situation as a matter of life or death.

Still, Walking Shadow brings Renaissance Fair flair to the 90-minute show, transporting you through a series of surprises and even tossing a little other-dimensional therapy into the mix as well. Cabal is a cool experience, and not just literally.

2010 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis