Wicked Lit is extremely challenging to describe to those who haven’t experienced it before. You throw out adjectives such as “beautiful”, “haunting”, “immersive”… and then chase it with, “And they do it in a cemetery and mausoleum.” That’s usually where the record needle scratch comes in the conversation.
But it’s true. Wicked Lit (short for “literature”) is a stunning theatrical presentation that takes place each Halloween season at the Mountain View Mortuary, Cemetery and Crematory in Altadena, California. If you’re unfamiliar – and I would imagine most people would be – Mountain View’s mausoleum is stunning – ornate and gorgeous. The surrounding cemetery grounds are also very serene and well-maintained. Not to sound morbid, it’s the type of place you walk through and think, “Ending up here wouldn’t be half bad, I suppose.” That said, at some point, that’s exactly what members of Unbound Productions thought, too. And so, Wicked Lit found a home in the hills above Pasadena.
Wicked Lit is a well-oiled machine that follows pretty much the same operational formula each Halloween. Guests congregate in a central location, where a “core show” – referred to as the “frame” begins. Then, the audience is divided into three smaller groups. One by one, each cluster of guests is led away, into the darkness of Mountain View, where they experience one of three performances that last roughly 45-50 minutes each. Once each performance is complete, the groups return at the same time to the hub – or core of the event, where another chapter of the frame plays out. Then, the process takes place again, with each group rotating through one of the three plays. This theatrical square dance takes place until everyone has seen all three productions, and then everyone returns to the main hub one last time for that story to wrap up and come to an end as well. It’s a full night of live entertainment and exceptionally spooky fun.
For 2016, Wicked Lit presents three tales of terror: From Beyond, The Shadowy Third, and Anansi and the Demons. The frame of the show is Camp Mountain View, a quirky, cheeky retreat populated by strange counselors and the oh-so-mysterious Big Papa (played brilliantly by a Wicked Lit favorite of ours, Kevin Dulude).
After gathering around the proverbial campfire (there are even blankets on the ground for those wishing to get out of their chairs), guests are greeted by Camp Mountain View’s oddball staff, and given the lay of the land (how Wicked Lit works operationally), riddled with smart and often intentionally awkward humor between some of the counselors. It’s the perfect frame for the show; as the chilled night air of Altadena settles in around the faux campfire, it is very easy to put yourself in the moment, absolutely becoming campers under the stars. The story of Camp Mountain View plays out between the three main performances, with personal interaction taking place between guests and camp staff – often with hilarious results. At the end of the night, the frame’s story line is wrapped up nicely and quite cleverly; it left us laughing and applauding all the way to the car!
From Beyond is a great adaptation of the famous H.P. Lovecraft tale of a scientist who creates a device that allows creatures from other planes of existence to enter the human realm. This performance is fantastic, taking place both outside of and inside the mausoleum. While there are some fantastic special effects incorporated in From Beyond, the stand-out feature (as is the case with all of the Wicked Lit productions) is its cast, who are all absolutely top-notch and completely believable in their roles. Dusty Hess as Crawford Tillinghast is tremendous – it’s nearly impossible not to be swept up in his delirious excitement and manic enthusiasm toward his otherworldly discovery.
The Shadowy Third is a haunting tale that plays out within another area of the Mountain View mausoleum, which for the purpose of the play, becomes the lavish home of a well-to-do, famous surgeon Dr. Roland Maradick and his ailing wife, Charlotte (played by Hannah Whiteoak, who delivers a riveting, powerhouse performance that leaves the audience emotionally unhinged at times). When they are paid a visit by Dr. Margaret Randolph, whose observations will determine whether or not Mrs. Maradick needs to be admitted to a mental facility, a frightening tale of deception and humanity plays out before our eyes. The climax is so well crafted that we left the mausoleum in stunned silence, still sporting goosebumps from what we’d just witnessed.
Anansi and the Demons is the “light” fare of the 2016 Wicked Lit lineup. Along with its smart humor however, comes moments of sheer terror and unexpected graphic violence; the two extremes play well together, creating a fun-yet-tense atmosphere. This performance plays out in the cemetery – the furthest location from Camp Mountain View. Even the gates to the cemetery have been incorporated into this clever adaptation from the canon of Anansi stories and Ashanti proverbs. While the cast is – as expected – exceptional, the real “Wow!” factor of this performance goes to the large demon puppets created by Joe Seely; their stylized design and impressive articulation blew us away and completely added authenticity to the African theme of the production.
Wicked Lit isn’t really a “haunt” – nor does it attract a general “haunt crowd”. It’s a theatrical production, so it typically pulls in a fairly highbrow audience. That said, Wicked Lit is a Halloween experience that fans of all walks should partake in and enjoy; it’s the perfect outing with a group of friends, or a spooky fun date night. Whatever the occasion, do not miss Wicked Lit this season. The show runs through November 12, so haunters working their own attractions this season absolutely have time after Halloween to see this. Get tickets now though – because Wicked Lit does sell out.
There is a lot of walking – brisk walking – throughout the night at Wicked Lit. You’ll be moving quickly through darkened spaces, and will be ascending and descending several flights of stairs; it’s most definitely a work out! I do not believe Wicked Lit is wheelchair-accessible, due to the terrain covered in the cemetery and the stairs found within the mausoleum. The production is adult-oriented, and not recommended for children under 13 years of age. The Mountain View Cemetery gets really cold, so check that forecast ahead of time and dress accordingly – if you wear a mini skirt and high heels, you’re gonna be one sad camper. Dress smart – comfortable shoes and warm clothing is best on chilly autumn nights.
Our suggestion is to have a nice dinner before you attend Wicked Lit; it’s a lengthy show, and you don’t want to be distracted by a growling stomach. There are light snacks and beverages available at Camp Mountain View between acts, with proceeds going to Unbound Productions.
We sound like a broken record each Halloween regarding Wicked Lit – it’s honestly one of our favorite events that we look forward to all year long. Unbound Productions never lets us down, and the entire team delivers incredible performances that leave us nothing less than spellbound. Kudos and much love to the entire cast and crew of Wicked Lit 2016 – Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
- Rick West