POMONA Calif. — Enter, if you dare, the historic Phillips Mansion — where eerie Victorian dolls communicate with each other across hallways, and voices whisper desperate pleas from inside an hourglass.
It's immersive theater from the mind of Jon Braver.
What You Need To Know
- Delusion's "Reaper's Remorse" is the seventh immersive experience by film and theater director Jon Braver
- The event features an "open world" attraction on the first floor of the historic home
- The Historical Society of Pomona Valley oversees the Phillips Mansion, which was built in 1875
- Earlier restoration efforts were undone by the Upland earthquake
“I found out about the Phillips Mansion in my dreams,” said Braver about the location for his latest Delusion attraction, Reaper’s Remorse. “It came to me in a nightmare.”
Actually, a location manager told Braver about the space, but once he set foot in the house, he was hooked.
“I spent some time in it, got to feel the energy of it, and there's nothing I've ever experienced,” he said. “This is the best Delusion location ever.”
And it's not just because of the ample street parking, Braver joked.
This is Braver’s seventh immersive experience with Thirteenth Floor Entertainment Group. The film and theater director, who is also a consultant for Disney Imagineering, loves shaking people out of the mundane.
“I worked as a stuntman for a long time, so I would do things that are outside of your normal, everyday world, crashing cars, jumping out of a building," he said. "So for me, seeing people get shaken, reverting to that childlike state again, it's unbelievably euphoric.”
The experience begins before the play even starts. For the first time, audiences are invited to explore an "open world" full of artifacts and clues — a glimpse and a whisper at what lies ahead.
The plot centers around the real matron of the house, Esther Phillips. Her husband Louis, a well-known businessman, built the mansion in 1875, and while a lot is known about him, Jennifer Williams with the Historical Society of Pomona Valley noted that less is known about his wife.
“She was originally a Blake,” Williams said. “The Blakes were a nice family from El Monte. So Louis had quite the catch with Esther.”
Beyond that, Esther is a blank slate. Both she and the shell of a house provided the perfect skeleton around which Braver could draft his fantastical work of fiction. And, Williams added, it’s definitely fiction.
“She seems like a spooky character in this story, and we don't have any evidence of her being particularly malicious or anything like that,” Williams said with a laugh.
However, quite frankly, fiction is nothing new here. Williams pointed out that among the historical artifacts found in the home is an early map of Pomona, designed to entice people to move to the up-and-coming city.
“It talks about the gentle ocean breezes in Pomona, which…not a thing I'm familiar with," she said.
The snippets of history live on, but what about the residents? At nearly 150 years old, is the mansion haunted?
"Oh, I have been here late at night, and it doesn't feel great," Williams said. "I don't recommend it, being here by yourself."
But Williams does recommend being there in a crowd. In fact, she is thrilled to see real live people wandering the grounds and hopes this event will summon new interest in restoring the house to its original glory. The Phillips Mansion had undergone extensive restoration, but sadly, Williams explained, much of that work was undone by the Upland earthquake in 1990.
“We've been slowly trying to raise money since then, to repair and to restore it to the beauty it would have been,” she said. “It would have been a Painted Lady, a Victorian masterpiece. But that takes a lot of funding. And that takes a lot of word of mouth, and people need to invest in the community and invest in the site.”
Braver is certainly invested — in the house, in the show and in the reincarnation of immersive theater.
“This was a mission for us, to bring people back together again,” he said. “This is very important what we're doing here. We're not just doing a haunted house. It's a play. It's theater again, and in the best possible way.”
Delusion’s “Reaper’s Remorse” runs through Nov. 21.
In addition, the Historical Society of Pomona Valley is presenting their own Halloween themed fundraiser nearby. “A Night in Old Spadra” guides visitors on a walking tour of the Spadra graveyard with all proceeds going to the continued care and protection of the historic cemetery.