Bumps in the Night, ‘Whispers in the Dark’ (Review)

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Whispers in the Dark at Two Bit Circus is a spooky, little magic show wrapped in a familiar, Halloween-appropriate premise: a seance. It has more than a few fun tricks up its sleeve, but ultimately struggles with tone and a too-quick, not-enough climax.

On the anniversary of a fateful night, a handful of guests gather with psychic medium Krystyn Lambert. She’s become obsessed with a 1923 murder mystery. The story goes like this:

William T. Banks, a wealthy tobacco tycoon, was called away from his estate one night to an address that did not exist. When he returned, his mansion had burned to the ground with his wife, socialite Evelyn Banks, inside. But the crib where the Banks’ infant daughter Elizabeth slept was free of ash and soot. She slept peacefully, clutching her doll, oblivious to the inferno that had raged around her. In his grief, Mr. Banks went mad and was institutionalized. Elizabeth was left a wealthy orphan, and the murder of her mother was never solved.

This portion of the story is conveyed through a video that guests watch before entering the seance room. It’s also available on Whispers’ website, here. It’s so cheesy, you might think you’re watching an old episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I expected that cheesiness to be an intentional part of the show, but it didn’t seem to be. Everything else unfolded in deadpan seriousness.

After the video, we were led to the seance room and seated around a long table.

Setting-wise, the room is very small. Those who saw Atlas will remember this area, but it feels even smaller when mostly consumed by a large table. It’s kept dimly lit with a few artifacts here and there, and it feels like the ideal place to host a seance. White noise is blasted into the room, presumably to cut out the noise of Two Bit Circus. It gives the room an ominous feeling, but we could still hear rowdy guests screaming from the arcade. (This really isn’t Whispers in the Dark’s fault, nor Two Bit’s. These people were straight-up SCREAMING out there.)

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Lambert introduced herself and explained that, with our help, she planned to catch Evelyn’s killer and allow Elizabeth’s spirit to rest easy. She explained how seances and spirits work, how we’d talk to key figures in the Banks’ lives to unravel it all. She was authoritative enough in her performance that it was easy to believe in ghosts, at least for the next hour.

The rest of the show consisted of illusions and tricks, each leading closer to the mystery’s resolution. I won’t spoil them for you, but it was a lot of inexplicable coincidences and mind-reading. If the show weren’t so somber and sinister, we might have applauded. Combined with the narrative, it was an enjoyable spectacle, even having seen similar tricks before. And for a while, it all felt like a slow burn, tiptoeing closer to an irreparable breach of that sacred veil between worlds.

But it wasn’t perfect. The issue was that I kept sitting there expecting the seance to ramp up into something that would shake even the most cynical of us, yet that never happened. The climax was extremely brief and campier than it was scary, but without humor or self-awareness. The reveal was little more than exposition and a simple trick. And then, just like that, it was over. For a show that moved with the tempo of a funeral dirge, it was hard to not want more from a third act.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to reconcile the cheesy video with the serious tone of the show, and the short reveal with the dragging pace of the seance. Camp can be fun when it’s self-aware (see Riverdale). Camp can even be emotionally arresting (see Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Whispers in the Dark doesn’t seem to know it’s camp or if it does, it never winks to let you know you’re having fun together. It either needs to be funnier or scarier, and I’m not sure which would be best.

Regardless, it’s nothing a little script tinkering and a few more tricks can’t fix. Krystyn Lambert (that’s her real name, and she’s really a magician) is a graceful performer, more than capable of carrying either kind of show. The bones of Whispers are interesting, and there’s certainly a lot of potential in this formula.

Whispers in the Dark runs through November 2nd, with performances on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at Two Bit Circus, 634 Mateo St, Los Angeles. Tickets are $45–60 dollars.

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