Purgatory Awaits You at the Infernal Motel

A limited-run immersive experience exists somewhere between life and death.

(Tyler Heibeck/Rathskeller Club)

Behind a nondescript door in the Mission is a portal to a place living souls rarely see. You won’t get a mint on your pillow or HBO at the Infernal Motel, but Epic Immersive’s latest endeavor offers plenty to anyone eager for a voyage to somewhere dark and distant.

For those who still question what an immersive experience actually entails, it is — perhaps frustratingly — always left best unspoken. Indeed, the surprise is part of the journey, but guests of the Infernal Motel can expect to crawl in the dark, commune with ghosts, and unravel a richly concocted story that borrows from one of literature’s great tales while still managing to be strikingly original.

Epic Immersive’s founder and artistic director Steve Boyle has already brought several large-scale events to the Bay Area, from the three-act spectacle Matthew Briar and the Age of Resurrection (set in History San Jose’s replica of an early 1900s town) to Ancien Regime, a modern French revolution performed in conjunction with San Francisco’s Come Out and Play Festival.

Meticulously planned and expertly executed, the Infernal Motel is a worthy addition to a resume already packed with many of the city’s most noteworthy and success immersive enterprises.

With the Infernal Motel, grandeur is substituted for intimacy. Over the course of 60-plus minutes, attendees converse with characters, sip strange elixirs, and quite literally stumble their way into understanding what the place they’ve arrived at truly represents. The set decoration is stunning, with intricate details and unexpected wonders lurking around every corner.

While the spirit of the Infernal Motel prohibits delving too deeply into the details, let it be known that associate artistic director Max Koknar is brilliant in his performance as one of the experience’s central figures. In fact, every actor is noteworthy as they push the bounds of comfort — emotionally speaking, that is, as no participants are ever subjected to anything objectionable — in their efforts to bring you into the narrative. The costumes are top-notch, too.

While the Infernal Motel may not be set at established theatrical venues like the Orpheum or the Curran, make no mistake: this production is as professional as it gets. From walls lined with book pages to an otherworldly tea service, visitors will likely leave wishing they could spend hours examining the nuances that breathe such life (or is it something else?) into the space’s walls and winding passageways.

Some immersive experiences — like the immensely popular Sleep No More in New York or even San Francisco’s own remount of The Speakeasy in North Beach — allow you to blend into the background if you so desire. There are no such options with the Infernal Motel. Those who enter should do so with a willingness to engage in the story unfolding around them. It is a risk that will undoubtedly prove to be its own reward.

If sitting in a seat with a playbill on your lap is the only kind of theater you know, it may just be time to grab a suitcase and venture somewhere slightly more … exotic. The bellhop is waiting. Your presence is expected. Don’t wait another moment for your journey to begin.

The Infernal Motel, Saturdays and Sundays through Nov. 19 in the Mission District. $55; epicimmersive.com/infernalmotel.html.


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