T. James Belich

"Saboteur" at Walking Shadow

Ever since Walking Shadow's 2006 Fringe hit 1926 Pleasant I've been hoping that another such puzzle show would be in the works. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard about Saboteur, a new "theatrical game with puzzles" as it's described. The show opened July 9th and runs through August 3rd (the day before this year's Minnesota Fringe Festival opens). I caught the show last Monday night and together with my fellow 11 audience members had to unravel a series of puzzles and with them an espionage-themed mystery.

The City Pages and TC Daily Planet's Matthew Everett have both done a fine job of summarizing the experience without giving too much away. As the audience you arrive at the headquarters of Universal Hydro Solutions for a guided tour, although it soon becomes clear that we are there for an entirely different purpose. The audience travels from room to room (guided by coordinator Jennifer Probst) where everyone must work together to solve various puzzles in order to advance the plot.

Puzzle creator David Pisa is no novice when it comes to devising unique and creative challenges (the details of which I won't give away) and Saboteur certainly does not disappoint. Pisa knows how to keep the goal of a puzzle straightforward while still providing some challenge in arriving at the solution. And cooperation amongst the audience is key (in fact, one puzzle would be absolutely impossible to complete without it). As other reviews have noted, don't be afraid to jump in with an idea and try things out. The dynamics of each group will be a little different, but there's room for both those who jump in immediately and those who want to hang back a little more and observe. Though if I may say so, my group was particularly top-notch: we finished the show in a record 68 minutes. :D

One criticism I do have of Saboteur is that I didn't find the characters and storyline as engaging as 1926 Pleasant. Here the story felt more like it existed in order to provide a rationale for the puzzles rather than the puzzles pulling me deeper into the story as in Pleasant. To be fair, there isn't a lot of room in a production like this to advance the story with how much time must be devoted to the solving of the puzzles, but I was hoping for a little more. Aayush Chandan and Emma Gochberg as the cast give solid if not stand-out performances.

But that being said, Saboteur is fun ride throughout and I love the active challenge it provides. If you missed 1926 Pleasant, then be sure not to miss this one as well. Tickets are limited (only 15 per show) so get them now! 4 out of 5 stars for a unique theatrical experience.

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