A Dad's Review: Mercer Island's Haunted Forest, plus Five More Haunts

hauntedforest2012_330x556Part of the tradition of Halloween is enjoying a good haunted house, and here in the Pacific Northwest it seems perfectly reasonable to extend the idea from a haunted house to a haunted forest. But looking at the description for the Youth Theater Northwest's production of Senseless: Mercer Island's Haunted Forest I wondered about the Blair Witch Project factor: The promotional materials gave the distinct impression that this was going to be a very creepy experience, perhaps too creepy for my kids, who have overactive imaginations.

I didn't have to worry. Senseless, an interactive theater production staged by the young performers of Youth Theatre Northwest, is well-done, creepy fun for kids. Written by Gillian Jorgensen and directed by Meghan Arnette, it doesn't have the traditional haunted house antics of people in skeleton, ghost, or monster costumes jumping out at you, but the forest is an ideal setting.

The 40-minute tours start after sunset, and as you leave the well-lit ballparks of Island Crest Park on Mercer Island you quite literally descend into a pitch-black forest guided by a host with a single small lantern. Be prepared, the footing is treacherous at the best of times, and during the run throughout October it promises to be wet and slippery. But that will only add to the experience. It was dry when I went, but the raindrops hitting the leaves would be a nice addition to the sensory impressions that are such a central theme to the performance.

As you wind your way along the woodland paths trying to avoid tripping on roots and follow the light of the lantern through the wavering shadows of the other guests you will come across a number of vignettes, each designed to illustrate a macabre aspect of a different sense: taste, sight, hearing. My favorite were the girls who couldn't touch — but I don't want to give too much away.

If you get the chance, Senseless is a very worthy alternative to the good old-fashioned haunted house. The recommended age is 8 and above, which seems a good guideline. I did see a couple of younger children on our tour and they were excited and engaged but only a little scared.

There are some performances especially for younger kids, too: On two Sundays, October 21 and 28, there will be non-scary daytime performances for younger kids ages 3 and up called Once Upon a Halloween. The show will be modified so instead of encountering lost souls wandering through an arboreal purgatory the kids will be participating in an interactive experience to help the people they find in the forest.

If you go ...

When: Senseless: Mercer Island’s Haunted Forest will run three more nights: Friday, Oct. 19, Saturday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 27, from 6:30–10 p.m. There are tours every ten minutes and the last tour leaves at 9:20 p.m.

Once Upon a Halloween daytime tours, run on two Sundays, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28, from 11 a.m.–3 p.m. (last tour leaves at 2:20 p.m.).

Where: Island Crest Park 5500 Island Crest Way, Mercer Island. Tours depart from the concession stand by the ball fields. There is plenty of parking.

Tickets: $15 for evening performances; $13 for Once Upon a Halloween matinees. Purchase tickets online at mercerislandshauntedforest.com or at the event. Teens may receive a special $2 ticket discount if they bring a can of food or other non-perishable food item to support the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services food bank. For further information, please email info@mercerislandshauntedforest.com.

More haunted houses and forests

Want more fear? Here's a sampling of other Halloween haunts in our region, most designed for older children.

Haunted Trails at Bastyr University
Kenmore: $20 per person
Oct. 19-20, 7-11 p.m.; plus younger kids' trick or treat and carnival from 5-9 p.m.

Dark Hollow Haunted Forest
Maple Valley: $15, $5 for non-scary family walk
Oct. 19-20, 25-27
Not recommended for children under 12

Carleton Farm Haunted Swamp Corn Maze
Between Everett and Lake Stevens; $14
Oct. 19-20, 26-28, 31
Not recommended for children under 12; daytime corn maze for younger kids

Craven Farm Haunted Nightmare: 3 Themes
Snohomish; $10-$30
Oct. 19-20, 26-28
Not recommended for children under 10

Maris Farms Harvest of Terror
Buckley; $15-$36
Oct. 18-21, 25-28, 31
Not recommended for children under 10
jak_headshot_da_1002John Kubalak is a writer, teacher, volunteer coordinator, raconteur, and scalawag. He does not publish science fiction under the pseudonym Jonathan Black but he does publish a monograph on fatherhood, The Eclectic Dad. He has a son, a daughter, a beautiful wife (and a little dog too!) who are adorable, maddening, zany, and brilliant all at the same time.

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