Actors and audience members alike partake in a hearty dinner (meat, potatoes and bread pudding) in “The Dead, 1904,” an immersive and faithful adaptation of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead,” which is being produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre and is performed throughout the American Irish Historical Society’s townhouse on the Upper East Side.
The increasingly popular genre of 360-degree immersive theater (where audience members are free to wander around a large space and observe performers as they engage in various scenarios) keeps drawing inspiration from classic works of literature.
“Sleep No More,” where audience members run up and down the floors of a Chelsea warehouse, is based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Another long-running hit, “Then She Fell,” takes its cue from “Alice in Wonderland.”
“The Dead,” which has been adapted into a 1987 film (directed by John Huston and starring Anjelica Huston) and a 1999 Broadway musical (led by Christopher Walken), is ideally suited for the immersive theater treatment since it brings to life a boisterous holiday party, full of dancing, arguing, drinking, singing, toasting and eating.
The production (directed with an eye for detail by Ciaran O’Reilly) manages to combine the fun and spontaneity of immersive theater with tender and nuanced acting from an accomplished cast. The dialogue is lifted directly from the original text.
The audience follows main character Gabriel Conroy (Boyd Gaines) as he arrives, awkwardly attempts to socialize, eats dinner and then listens as his wife (Kate Burton) reveals a sad secret from her past. (The crowd follows the pair into their bedroom for the finale.)
Even with dinner and drinks included, the ticket price is absurdly expensive ($300 or $1,000 to eat at the center dining table next to the characters), but there is a digital lottery for a limited number of discounted tickets selling for $19.04.