Crowded house

Chicago doesn’t have much in the way of immersive theater experiences like Sleep No More in NYC. So when Windy City Playhouse debuted Leslie Liautaud’s Southern Gothic in 2018 it took the scene by storm. Folks were clamoring to get inside the Coutier home to be one of the two dozen houseguests for Suzanne’s 40th birthday party in Ashford, Georgia, in the early 1960s. Drinks flow, tempers flare, secrets spill out. And we’re privy to all of it as we walk about the house.

Since 2018, I’ve made it no secret that I’m an immersive theater fangirl. So when WCP made the announcement that Southern Gothic would receive a remount downtown in the Goodman-adjacent Playhouse at Petterino’s, I was thrilled. The choose-your-own-adventure style show is the same as its predecessor, with plenty of juicy drama to keep even the noisiest houseguests interested. This time, I followed the men with their financial troubles rather than the romantic tête-à-têtes.

Southern GothicThrough 11/30: Wed and Fri 7 PM, Thu and Sat 3 and 7 PM, Sun 1 and 5 PM, Playhouse at Petterino’s, 150 N. Dearborn, windycityplayhouse.com, $65-$105

Frequent Coutier houseguests will notice the differences between the latest house and the previous one at Windy City Playhouse’s regular home on West Irving Park. The kitchen and dining room layouts are swapped, for example. And now there are countless reminders to not lean against the walls which (as I recall) was a nonissue during the original run. 

However, the biggest difference in this iteration of Southern Gothic (which, like the first, is directed by David H. Bell, with the concept created by WCP’s artistic director Amy Rubenstein and associate artistic director Carl Menninger) is the accommodation for 15 additional bodies. A capacity of 30 compared to 45 feels huge in such a small space. 

Honestly, there are just too many people now for free movement around the house to feel appropriate. It’s hard to avoid actors or being in the way when there isn’t enough space for everyone to feel comfortable. Plus if you’re unlucky enough to have a group of chatty friends in your audience it can be impossible to hear the dialogue even if you’re right next to the actors. 

With so many flies on the wall in this Georgian home, Southern Gothic loses some of the charms it held during its first open-ended run. Perhaps, in time, it will get that back. 

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