New Paradise Laboratories’ Gumshoe, a fun, interactive theater adventure, accompanies both the Free Library of Philadelphia exhibit Becoming the Detective: The Making of a Genre and the Rosenbach Museum and Library’s Clever Criminals and Daring Detectives. A limited audience, split into groups of four or five and supplied with little notebooks and pencils, become apprentices in the “Gumshoe Training Experience,” created by the Bureau of Mysteries. We don't learn much about the bureau, except that they solve library mysteries -- currently, one about Edgar Allen Poe -- and they recognize each other with a secret sign.
And we're off!
A 90-minute adventure, Gumshoe requires comfortable shoes, stamina, and attention to detail. We're managed by agents (played by Nia Benjamin, Jeffrey Cousar, Camilla Dely, Jessica Johnson, Jenson Titus Lavallee, and Jo Vito Ramirez) who, they explain, are also librarians, appearing and disappearing suddenly as we're taken through the library to follow arcane directions, look for clues hidden in books, and decipher word puzzles. Kevin Meehan, a rogue agent in sunglasses and trench coat, occasionally intervenes with cryptic warnings.
I don't want to reveal the mystery, of course, but there's much to appreciate here. One great aspect is that it's a tour of the library -- both its public and private spaces -- and occurs while the library is open and busy, so that we're hiding in plain sight, surrounded by regular patrons while seeking clues.
Gumshoe isn't exactly scripted -- planned is a more accurate word, with the agents allowed to extemporize – but creators Whit MacLaughlin (who also directs), Lauren Feldman, Jorge Cousineau, Tassos Stevens, and the ensemble include recurring themes. They worry about "the fog" and instruct us to carefully glean “the truth from the fog.” "Be aware of the fog," we're told later. "The fog does not deceive people; it merely helps people deceive themselves." Deep stuff.
Questions are answers
While this journey is great fun, the destination lacks a finale. The groups finally join to pool ideas and consider more clues in a wonderfully creepy basement office, and the Gumshoe adventure continues via mobile phone in the library and at the Rosenbach.
The mystery remains unsolved -- or at least, during the performance I attended, not conclusively solved. Still, Gumshoe is an exciting experience, a lively walk through a beautiful old building that provides insights not only about the detective story's origins, but also the challenges of determining authenticity, the thin line between fiction and fact, and our insatiable desire to detect.