Metro Weekly

Editor’s Pick: ‘Chemical Exile: Synthesis’ at the Rorschach Theatre

'Chemical Exile: Synthesis' is a stand-alone production, but it ties in with a year's worth of interactive productions.

Chemical Exile Express: Arika Thames — Photo: DJ Corey

After returning from Amsterdam last fall, chemist Dr. Theodora Morris barely recognized her hometown, finding today’s D.C. to be little like what she remembered. A plausible, if not altogether common, experience, that.

In this case, however, the story isn’t actually real but a work of fiction concocted by a group of playwrights with Rorschach Theatre.

The work, Chemical Exile, is presented as the second, season-long immersive experience through the innovative company’s “Psychogeographies Project.”

“We have always been interested in immersive theater, ways you can kind of surround the audience with the world of the play,” says Jenny McConnell Frederick, who co-founded Rorschach Theatre with Randy Baker over 20 years ago.

But after the pandemic hit, they realized they needed to change certain aspects of how they staged their live, in-person productions.

They ultimately decided to go for broke, throwing out their old playbook to test a new model.

Last season, they made their return to live theater with Distance Frequencies, their first psychogeography production, a term they define as “a groundbreaking project that combines history, fiction, magic realism, and real-world excursions in a new kind of theatrical experience.”

Psychogeography, in Rorschach’s conceptualization, is a theatrical project involving professional actors in non-traditional, site-specific locations, often outdoors, and incorporating immersive and interactive elements as an effort to engage the audience better and enhance their experience.

Rorschach launched Chemical Exile last October by releasing the first of seven chapters, with each successive chapter made available approximately one month later.

In each case, theatergoers were mailed a box of artifacts, all clues to help them piece together what’s going on with Dr. Morris — among her problems is a stranger following her around town and a man claiming to be her dead father who has started a cult.

Theatergoers then follow the included instructions to visit the particular locations in the city where that particular chapter’s action was set.

Rorschach is currently presenting the eighth and final chapter in the production, and only one presented as a live, in-person performance.

But fear not: Chemical Exile: Synthesis is a stand-alone offering, meaning it can be enjoyed even if you didn’t participate in (or even know about) the preceding chapters until now.

Alternatively, those earlier chapters are available for purchase and to be experienced anytime on your own timeline.

Arika Thames stars as Dr. Teddy Morris in a cast that includes Erik Harrison, Nathanael Hatchett, Jen Rabbitt Ring, Roz Ward, and Baakari Wilder. Baker directed the production, which he created with Frederick, Kylos Brannon, Doug Robinson, Shayla Roland, and Jonelle Walker.

Through July 24 at the R2 Labs at Waterfront Centre, 800 9th St. SW.

Tickets are $45 for the live show, with discounts available for students, seniors, and theater industry professionals, or $175 including the seven chapters. Visit www.rorschachtheatre.com.

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