Review: DEATH: THE MUSICAL III: ESCAPE ROOM at Pocket Sandwich Theatre is haunting!

Death The Musical III:  Escape Room!

Written and Directed by Scott A. Eckert
Produced by Pocket Sandwich Theatre

Reviewed by David Ellivloc

Do ghosts, poltergeists or other supernatural phenomena exist?  According to a reputable 2021 poll by Ipsos, the world’s third largest marketing research company, 40% of Americans believe in ghosts, while 25% say they’ve seen or even been haunted by one.  While those may be scary stats, they pale in comparison to the fact that 100% of Americans are haunted by their past!!!

Now, that last stat doesn’t come from a reputable poll, but comes from disreputable little ole me who made it up.  However, anecdotal as it may be, I think you’ll agree that what we do today, as well as what we plan to do tomorrow, is to a very great extent governed, both consciously and unconsciously, by past experiences, most especially the “bad” things we’ve done.  In which case, you, like me, will have no trouble accepting the premise of the hauntingly disturbing production of Death The Musical III: Escape Room! at the Pocket Sandwich Theatre.

For 5 sorority sisters, called The Ashleys, are gathering 20 years after graduation for a reunion of sorts at an Escape Room in Los Angeles.  DTM3 introduces us to The Ashleys in the show opener “Gettin’ The Band Back Together”.  There’s failed country singer wannabe Ashlee, played by Alexis Sparkles Belt with a down-homey weariness that’s intermittently buoyed by full-on back-country optimism.  There’s Ashleigh, a four-time loser in the rich husband marital sweepstakes, played by Sarah Powell with a tight smile and clenched fists, as she hawks paintings she doesn’t love to folks who want an investment rather than art.  There’s Ashly, a leather clad Lesbian who’s angry avante-garde art is unappreciated, played by Rowan Gilvie with a take no prisoners attitude that keeps folks at bay as she stuffs down her palpable pain.  There’s Ashli, an Omaha teacher, wife, and mother of two, played by Robin Clayton as a bored Barbie needful of excitement and attention, amusingly stooping so far as to fail at being the funny one in the group.  Finally, there’s Ashley, a one-time failed med student now unhappy barista, played with full-out frustration and angst by Abigail Palmgren.  

Once The Ashleys arrive at the Escape Room, cleverly designed by Clare Floyd DeVries with all the requisite hidden doors, creepy mirrors, and mysterious trappings, we meet The Caretaker, played by an unnervingly obsequious and pleasant M. Shane Hurst.  It’s now that the stakes are raised and the truth about the reunion is revealed.  For The Ashleys were not invited by one of their own but by Claire, a former classmate whom The Ashleys have never forgotten but never expected to see again.  Madeleine MorrisClaire has a macabre menace as she challenges The Ashleys in her sinister serenade “You Can Run, But You Can’t Hide”.  

The cast makes the tension and inner turmoil between each of The Ashleys, The Caretaker, and Claire very compelling.  How will this work out?  Who can we root for?  Who’s to blame?  You’ll be on the edge of your seat as you consider these questions.  Also, on stage, helping to create some of the truly creepy visual effects is Evelyn Dumeer, credited as Ashlea, Understudy.  Rebecca Litsey’s costume design suits each character and contributes to the creep factor as well.

Death The Musical III:  Escape Room is both well written and well directed by Scott A. EckertEckert is also the main Composer and Lyricist for the show, with the program noting his collaborators on 5 of the 16 songs in the show.  Eckert is also the show’s Music Director and played Keyboard and Bass, with Ian Mead Moore on Guitar and Bass, and Alan Pollard on Drums.   The live accompaniment served the performance well, providing a spontaneous vitality and energy equal to that of the performers.  

There are several standout songs in the show.  Powell’s Ashleigh sings “Smiling”, a lament about smiling through her empty life.  “Shoes” allows Clayton’s Ashli to revel in her coping mechanism of choice and reveals that it’s Jimmy Choo’s that get her through the blandness or her box-like Omaha existence.  Another welcome lighter moment comes with Belt’s Ashlee sweetly looking for the bright side of life in “W.W.D.D.”, an homage to one of the first ladies of Country music.  Powell’s Ashley and Gilvie’s Ashly, a frustrated gallery owner and a frustrated artist respectively, each individually sing “Art I”, with each convincingly conveying what art means to them.  But each is also gifted with their own duet with Claire towards the end of the show.  Powell’s Ashley and MorrisClaire are moving as they sing the revelatory “I See You Now”.   Finally, Gilvie’s Ashly and MorrisClaire are heart-breakingly raw as they sing the lovely “I Loved You More”.  

DTM3 is a thoughtful and thought-provoking musical about five sorority sisters and one secret that may very well haunt your thoughts after the show!  And remember, going to the Pocket Sandwich Theatre is an event, not merely an evening of theater.  You are not required to buy food or drink but come early (say between 6:30 pm to 7:15 pm) to have ample time if you want good eats and drinks (The fabulous, loaded nachos and a cold pitcher of beer this time!!).  The PST’s location in historic downtown Carrollton is a warm and welcoming venue with plenty of easy and free parking around the square or under the freeway in the back of the theater. 

Audience Rating: PG-13 due to references to sex and violence.

Running Time:  Approximately two hours and thirty minutes with two 15-minute intermissions.

Accessible seating: Available

Hearing Devices Available: Not Available

Sensory Friendly Showing: Not Available

Production Sound Level: Comfortable Volume

Noises and Visuals to Know About: Yelling, physical fights, and implied use of liquid poison and poison gas.

See you at the theater!