What's it about?
Garden of Delights is an immersive experience that takes place in a warehouse gallery filled with carefully selected artworks. The story follows Lais (pronounced Lay-us), a beautiful blonde actress living with memories and ghosts, a caged, caveman-like companion, and a flock of sheep she considers her family. Lais brings new meaning to the words "tortured artist," almost exclusively associating both God and love with physical pain. It is only through punishments she often begs for that she is able to derive any pleasure.
What I experienced?
I arrive at The Plaxall Gallery in Long Island City a half hour before Garden of Delights is supposed to begin. I try the front doors, but they are locked. Tiny letters instruct me to enter through the parking lot, but when I try that door it is locked as well. I'm sure that I am here too early, but I also don't know where else to go. It's been a long week at work and I don't have the energy to mindlessly wander. A man notices me hesitating outside the door and asks if I'm in the play. I tell him no, but he is already leading me out of the parking lot to the front doors that I had tried to begin with. He unlocks them for me, gesturing for me to go inside. Something feels off to me. I tell the man as much, tell him that if the doors are locked they are locked for a reason, but he could not look less concerned. I ask him if I'm allowed to do this, one hand holding open the recently unlocked door, but he just walks away, smirking.
I am in a long, deserted, grey hallway lined with closed doors on both walls. I can't help but feel a little like I'm in some kind of a horror movie. Is this the part where the crazy guy jumps out of nowhere and kills me? I'm too afraid to open any of the doors, convinced I am going to stumble upon a rehearsal, or something else I am not supposed to see. I finally lose my nerve and hurry out the way I came, feeling a lot like a trespasser. When I return to the parking lot entrance closer to 8:00pm, thankfully, the door is open and there's a small line of people waiting to have their eTickets scanned.
The room ahead of me is an art gallery, and I'm somehow surprised. There are paintings all over the walls, many of which depicting female genitalia. There is a small table at the center of the space where cups of white and red wine are being sold. I take my time admiring each painting and sculpture. Eventually, a lady steps into the space dressed like she just came from a sex dungeon. She has thigh-high boots, a leather corset, and a spiked leather collar around her neck. Attached to her belt is a long whip. She's an eye-full, but when she speaks, she's super timid and embarrassed as she directs us into the main performance space.
The seats marked with a red X are the seats that will grant whoever sits there the least immersive experience. Naturally, I avoid those marked seats like the plague in search of a seat that will grant me the most immersive experience possible. I choose a seat at a table. On my chair there's a little goodie bag tied with a red curled string. I am to keep this bag with me throughout the show because I'll need its contents at various moments in the night. My bag contains a glow stick around a black cloth string, a kazoo, a container of bubbles, and Jolly Ranchers (one red, one blue). I hang the glow stick around my neck, but it refuses to glow, not matter how much I manipulate it. Huh. A glow-less glow stick... I wonder if it's intentional.
Lais fascinates me. She's very attractive and delicate, a talented singer and actress. From the outside, she is the picture of the successful celebrity. But she has some serious baggage. She grew up in an orphanage where she was frequently beaten as a punishment and taught to view her own body as sinful. She was not even allowed to shower naked. When she got her period, she was convinced she was dying because nobody had educated her about going through puberty. Naturally, she runs away from her miserable existence at the orphanage, where she happens upon Teloc, a man with thick black eyeliner, large muscles, and sex appeal in spades. He has a helmet which gives whoever wears it the power to travel through time, and Lais is simply drawn to him. He orders her around, orders her to kneel in front of him, to show him her bare legs, and even though she seems humiliated she seems more hungry for his approval, his attention.
Zenon is a different story. Lais keeps him locked away and orders HIM around. He cannot speak in complete sentences, but one thing is clear: He is very much in love with Lais, and he wants to express his love physically. When he greets her, he gets so excited by her mere presence that he often ends up inadvertently hurting her.
When Lais sings Ave Maria accompanied by Teloc's "farts" (a trumpet), we are encouraged to blow bubbles throughout the performance, an instruction I am all too happy to follow.
Later in the show, when we are made to play a tune on our kazoos, I find that mine is completely hollow and soundless. A few looks around the room prove that my kazoo is not the only defective instrument. It seems like all of them are. Interesting...
I think about my own life as an artist and the pains and pleasures that go along with it. I remember my 1st period voice class in my Junior year of high school and the way my entire day was made or broken based on how well I performed that morning. If I performed badly, I was crushed and I would almost definitely excuse myself to have a good cry. But if I performed well... there was nothing that could keep me down, be it another failed math test or less than ideal weather.
Lais' lack of sexual education also made me grateful for the more than adequate sexual education I received in the NYC public high school system, not to mention the far more thorough education I received from my own mother. Lais' misinformation lead to a dangerous level of sexual repression that proved to be damaging to her well into her adulthood.
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