‘Fright Night’ is less frightful than intriguing
Published: Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 10:53 a.m.
Imagine a stout door of rough wooden planking.
What: Adaptations of three classic tales to celebrate the Halloween season
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 27
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St.
Cost: $10 general-admission seating
Info: 234-6278, Acrosstown.org
Imagine it is crisscrossed with thick iron bracing that forms an ominous “Z” pattern, as though to add oppressive weight to an already formidable barrier.
Imagine not one, not two but three heavy bolts.
And imagine what lurks beyond it that could possibly require such precautions. For a modest Victorian England cottage. At a prison sanitarium. As a palace gate.
To keep someone in? To keep something out?
Actually, the three short plays that make up “Fright Night,” the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre’s Halloween offering, leave quite a bit to the imagination. And that rough wooden door — that barrier against the unknown, the unseen, the unthinkable — looms large on stage, as though to invite viewers to imagine their worst fears.
And, really, isn’t that what Halloween is all about?
If you come to the ART expecting the explicit violence, bloodletting and raw shock that is such a staple of modern day horror you will be disappointed. The familiar short stories from which this trilogy of plays are drawn were written in an earlier, more innocent age; long before special effects and lowered inhibitions relieved us of the very need to exercise our imagination.
No, the only way to appreciate the ART’s “Fright Night” is to willingly suspend one’s jaded expectation of the explicit. To take one’s imagination out of storage and give it leave to wander and wonder:
What is thumping so insistently on the other side of that wooden door? What will emerge when the bolts are shot?
In W.W. Jacobs’ “The Monkey’s Paw” it is a mummified artifact from India and the strange tale and ominous warnings of an alcohol-soaked ex-soldier that conspires to show a modest English family that the line between blessing and curse is exceedingly thin and brittle. And that insistent thumping behind the stout door on a dark night of moaning wind? Perhaps the terrible consequences of realizing one’s fondest wish coming home to visit.
The ART’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” invites the viewer to witness the freely-given confession (boasting?) of a deranged murderer. Meanwhile, in the gloomy darkness just beyond, shadowy mimes re-enact the gristly deed that stilled a heart but could not silence its insistent beating inside the tortured mind of the perpetrator.
And in Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death” self-indulgent nobles drink and frolic within the safety of castle walls while, just beyond that stout wooden door, their subjects fall victim to a terrible disfiguring plague. But how safe are the privileged 1 percent when Death comes knocking?
The three productions drag on at points — these are old and familiar stories after all — but a handful of capable actors help to keep the audience engaged. Rachel Wayne does a nicely deadpan turn as Rigaldo, the jester-narrator of “Masque.” George O’Brien’s over-the-top portrayal of the besotted one-armed soldier who brings a strange curio, and much misery, into the White household in “Monkey’s Paw” delivers perhaps the most entertaining moments of the evening. Providing you can hack your way through his thick (English? Scottish?) accent.
The hardest working member of the cast is undoubtedly Chuck Lipsig with major speaking roles in all three plays (Mr. White, the prison psychiatrist and Prospero the prince). By contrast, Scott Gross (Sampson, Cedric, Petrus) and is a dark figure of relatively few words who lets his sinister visage do his talking for him.
In truth, measured against the standard of modern horror, “Fright Night” is less frightful than intriguing. If you check your imagination at the door you will likely come away disappointed. Best to contemplate that stout wooden door at the outset and imagine what lies beyond.
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