Props for “iris and the Axe” from Turnkey Theatre. Courtesy of the theater

The sound is eerie. The visuals are spooky. The story is suspenseful.

Turnkey Theatre’s “Iris and the Axe” does, in fact, have an axe — and you get to determine who wields it and who gets whacked.

In pursuing their mission of presenting black-box interactive theater, the six-month old San Diego company invites you to choose-your-own-adventure, to determine the outcome of this inventive murder mystery.

The narrative is set in 1870. Iris, a young Civil War widow who recently lost her parents and sister in a cholera outbreak, feels fortunate to have married the charming, well-to-do Charles Cypress.

When we meet her, her carriage is just pulling up to Charles’ expansive Victorian mansion, north of San Francisco. But almost immediately, the beautiful, lushly landscaped retreat begins to seem increasingly sinister.

Some of the staff are robotic and non-communicative. Iris’s Jekyll-and-Hyde husband veers wildly from kind and solicitous to boorish and cruel.

Iris in the play. Illustration by Kay De

You determine the choices she makes, to understand what’s going on, and determine why there’s a strange stone-circle burial ground of young women in the woods, and how she’ll save herself from a similar fate.

You’re guided by the symbolism of the Victorian language of flowers (you can even buy a specially curated copy of Jessica Roux’ “Floriography,” an attractively illustrated dictionary of flower meanings which includes notes and clues to Iris’s drama tucked into the pages.

At a certain juncture in the story, you might be asked, for example, to choose between Belladonna, which represents Silence, and Edelweiss, which symbolizes Courage or Daring.

Iris plays a unique role in this production. She’s no secondary character, no wallflower or shrinking violet. She’s the centerpiece, and she has agency; she’s determined to root out the problems in the castle and take matters into her own hands.

Will she triumph? That’s up to you.

The clever, imaginative video production is distinctive in that the scenes are presented as hand-drawn illustrations (colorfully created by Kay De, with excellent video design by G. Adam Parrocha). The sound (by Andrew Gutierrez) enhances the visuals.

The characters are effectively portrayed through voiceover by six actors, led by Marisa Taylor Scott as Iris, Kaivan Mohsenzadah as her husband, Charles, and Jamie Boyd as Iris’s maid, Ivy (note the women’s flower names).

Katie B. Turner, the multi-talented multi-hyphenate (founder-owner-artistic director of Turnkey  Theatre), expertly wrote, directed and produced the piece, and also serves as our ghostly, ghoulish Guide.

One more unusual aspect of this singular production: there are three ways to view it.

You can attend a live, in-person show on October 29.  You can see an Interactive live-stream presentation on October 15 or 16. Or, you can watch anytime, On Demand, throughout the month of October.

Either way, it’s perfect for the Halloween season: ghostly, Gothic and melodramatic, complete with plot-tricks and floral informational treats.


  • “Iris and the Axe” from San Diego’s Turnkey Theatre
  • Live, In-Person Show, with the video shown on a 14-foot outdoor screen, and considerable interaction with the live Narrator/Guide:  Friday, Oct. 29, The Che Café @ UCSD, at 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7 p.m.). Tickets ($25 General admission, $15 for Students) are at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/5274378
  • Interactive Live-Stream Events: Oct. 15 and 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets ($25-$65 per device, depending on how many people watch and participate) available at https://our.show.irislivestream
  • On Demand:  Online from Oct. 1 to Oct. 31 (for $20-$65) at https://our.show/irisondemand
  • Running Time: 60-90 minutes, depending on the choices you make during the show

Pat Launer, a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, is a long-time San Diego arts writer and an Emmy Award-winning theater critic. An archive of her previews and reviews can be found at patlauner.com.

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