THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD Finds The Weird Joy — Review
“This is New York. You could be anywhere tonight so thank you for being here.” I nodded politely knowing I have absolutely no clue what I was doing in a church with 17 strangers. And so begins The Voices In Your Head, a new, immersive performance from Billy McEntee and collective Those Guilty Creatures. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience described as a support group for members sharing a bizarre bond with site-specific staging in a Brooklyn church. It’s also a hilarious dark comedy perfect for fans of immersive theatre.
To be fair, it’s clear St. Lydia’s is not a typical church. The storefront “dinner-church” in Gowanus is a cozy and warm gathering-space-kitchen with rustic walls, string lights, and colorful wooden chairs arranged in a circle. As I checked off my name on the sign-in sheet, grabbed a complimentary cookie, and took an empty seat next to a stranger, I began to feel a visceral sense of dread.
I have a complicated relationship with support groups. Something about hearing strangers talk about the darkness in their lives has always made me uneasy. My anxiety kicked into high gear as I made small talk with the other group members, not knowing if they were eccentric actors or just lived in Brooklyn. Let me be clear, all of this is a huge compliment to the immersive quality of the show.
The meeting kicks off with Gwen (Vanessa Kai), the leader and creator of the group, warmly reminding everyone why we are gathered. “Everyone has their own relationship to grief; I’ve been considering mine, but what about anti-grief?” She picks up from last week, giving the floor to Regina (Daphne Overbeck) who didn’t finish her story about a trip to Las Vegas and her husband’s cheat day with cheese. In true support group fashion, folks come in late, leave early, and overshare to the extreme. The puzzling stories and group exercises slowly reveal tensions between group members and the real reason why we are gathered.
Creators Billy McEntee and Grier Mathiot cleverly allow the audience to piece together the common link of the group. This detective work is the crux of the piece, so it’s difficult to get too into the weeds without spoilers. I’ll share that as the fog lifts and things get even more immersive, I began to consider myself a member of the group. When a prospective member arrives late, Gwen draws a line in the sand sharing that this group might not be for him. I found myself nodding along - he’s not one of us. My complete change of attitude during the hour-long meeting is a testimony to Ryan Dobrin’s swift and subtle direction.
A standout moment occurs during a brief break halfway through the meeting. The room becomes a choose-your-own-adventure playground with multiple conversations happening inside and outside the church. I observed my seat neighbors Vivian (Marcia DeBonis) and Caleb (Christian Caro) having a beautiful, private moment about carpooling home together. Meanwhile, a tense conversation between Gwen and frustrated group member Sandra (Erin Treadway) explodes into Sandra leaving the space. Piecing together what happened with my friend, who was seated on the other side of the room, was a real delight. Another delight is Patrick Foley as Blake, who shares the most deranged (my favorite) story of the night.
While much of The Voices In Your Head is compelling, the lofty dramatic swings at the end are at odds with the tight run time. It felt difficult to invest in the conceptual support group while tracking the narrative tensions between characters. The latter could be more interesting with a longer run time. Upon leaving, I didn’t feel like I had a full meal… rather, a delicious little cookie.
That being said, I cannot wait to see what the future holds for this piece. If you are a fan of immersive theatre (or support groups?), do anything you can to get a ticket. It definitely is full of weird joy.