Immersive theater routinely makes audience members uncomfortable, but Mr. Scruggs is on a level all his own with “3/Fifths.” Presented by 3-Legged Dog, it begins as a stroll-about “atrocity carnival” (directed by Tamilla Woodard), then flows into another space for a sit-down cabaret (directed by Kareem Fahmy).
The outrage that pulses through this show has the same historical source as Scott Sheppard and Jennifer Kidwell’s “Underground Railroad Game,” Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s “An Octoroon” and works by Suzan-Lori Parks, including “Venus” (there is a Hottentot here, too), though “3/Fifths” is less accomplished as drama. It’s like a distant descendant of George C. Wolfe’s “The Colored Museum,” but on the art-school side of the family, akin to Pedro Reyes’s “Doomocracy” installation last fall.
Every moment of this carnival (the set is by David Ogle) feels like a test with one question: What kind of ugliness are you willing to be a part of? Most of the would-be amusements are interactive, involving performers, but even a video game called Rough Ride is queasy-making: Shake a toy police van violently enough and see the animated black man on the screen tossed around. (Video design is by Cam Vokey and Jon Bremner.)
At the glaringly parodic Selfies With Homies booth, were the smiling white couple posing for a photograph regular audience members or friends of the show pitching in? I have no idea. Ditto the white guy at the tattoo booth, where all of the design choices are white supremacist, opening his shirt so that a swastika could be projected onto his chest.
Then there is the Crime Scene booth, which works like a beanbag toss. An unnervingly cheerful white thug, who seems like he’d have been friends with Rolfe the Nazi in “The Sound of Music,” urges people to choose a prestocked evidence bag. Then he spins them around with their eyes closed.
The challenge, he explained, is to use your intuition — which, yes, is funny in a grim way — to scatter the evidence around a black man (William Delaney) lying inside a chalk outline. Do it properly and the thug (Matthew Brown) will congratulate you: “We have a natural in the house tonight. Are you in law enforcement?”
Occasionally, performances occur in the center of the room, where Jim Crow (Khiry Walker) gets a laugh track so his disturbing jokes don’t seem as if they’re bombing. When a procession leads the black audience members into the cabaret space, the whites stay behind for a creepy show of their own with the General (Ken Straus), whose face is on the currency of SupremacyLand. (On the reverse in one…