The hacker was nervous. Not to meet me; she was worried about getting caught passing secrets as we huddled together in the reading room of the New York Public Library. After a brief, silent exchange via text, she pushed a handwritten letter across the table at me — and, moments later, snatched it out of my hands. “We’re being watched,” she whispered frantically, tearing the letter up and dropping each shred in a different recycling bin as she hurried me out the door.
That was a scene from “The Path of Beatrice,” the premium-priced experience that takes immersive theater to the next level, infiltrating your everyday life. A companion piece to the “Paradiso” series of immersive-theater/escape room hybrids (created and produced by immersive theater guru Michael Counts), “The Path of Beatrice” takes a page from David Fincher’s 1997 movie “The Game,” crafting a bespoke series of one-on-one encounters at locations all around New York City.
The cost? $300, which puts it in the territory of premium Broadway tickets. (The individual escape rooms, without “The Path of Beatrice” experience, run $35-$50 per person.) Every patron’s “Path of Beatrice” will be different, but there are some constants. Here’s what to expect.
A Shady Corporation, A Secret Resistance
There’s a story to “Path of Beatrice,” but it has more in common with a videogame narrative than the plot of a play. Expanding on the world established in the two “Paradiso” escape rooms, “Beatrice” puts you in the crosshairs of the Virgil Corporation, the seemingly benign global power with a sinister agenda. At the same time, you’re contacted by a shadowy resistance movement of hacktivists who are working to bring Virgil down.
A Cryptic Package or Two
You’ll get at least one mysterious package. It’s not quite what it seems, and it comes with an enigmatic note. Who’s it from? You’ll find out — eventually.
A Session in an Escape Room
Part and parcel of “Path of Beatrice” is a session in one of the escape rooms. The more elaborate of the two, “The Escape Test,” introduces participants to the Virgil organization through a series of challenging puzzles spread over a series of meticulously set-dressed rooms, and featuring a handful of live actors prepped for interaction. The newer offering, “The Memory Room” (pictured above), takes place in a white box of a room with immersive video projections. Both are styled as Virgil-sponsored evaluations of your potential as an employee.
A Mysterious Cast of Characters
You’ll get in-character texts and emails throughout the week of “Beatrice.” Some will be from your recruitment officer at Virgil; others will come from resistance agents with enigmatic codenames. Hints are dropped, to let you piece together a narrative; burning questions are suggested, to ask during one-on-one encounters; and espionage is requested, as both sides enlist your aid in rooting out the other.
The meat of the experience are the solo encounters, with actors, in real locations. Scenes will vary per participant, but mine included that clandestine meeting with the hacker; a tour through a New York landmark, tasked with some cloak-and-dagger spycraft while completing a scavenger hunt for evocative fragments of artworks; and a sprinting chase down a crowded Koreatown block in the rain.
A Couple of Eerie Moments of Alternate Reality
After an encounter in “Beatrice,” the rest of everyday life will look like part of the experience too. Does that imperious museum docent work for Virgil? Is that Brazilian tourist in Bryant Park staring at you? Like Michael Douglas in “The Game,” you’ll have a couple of moments of wondering if everyone around you is in on “Beatrice.”
Answers, and More Questions
If you’re big into narrative, “Beatrice” does the most to get story points across, compared to the more allusive escape rooms. (I learned a lot, for instance, about one of the characters who played an important role in one of the escape rooms.) But it’s a storyline that comes in fragments, and there are plenty of mysteries left open — perhaps to spur you to try out another escape room. (There are two “Paradiso” escape rooms currently in operation, with more on the way.)
For creator-producer Counts — who’s also behind the immersive, indoor drive-in experience targeting a 2018 opening in Nashville — “Paradiso” and “Beatrice” are also the seeds of future projects. The 360-video tech of “Memory Room” (pictured above), for example, is poised to roll out nationally as part of a series of Sherlock Holmes-themed escape rooms. And “Beatrice” could be the first step toward what Counts has described as an ongoing, immersive, alternate-reality game.
There are also those new “Paradiso” rooms coming up. “In the next one, the two worlds — Virgil and the resistance — will start to merge,” Counts predicted. “Who are the bad guys? That’s where I think the narrative is heading.”