Thursday, July 23, 2009

Haunted House


By Daniel Roberts. Directed by Brian Ziv. Audax Theatre Group at the Irish Arts Center. (CLOSED)

Aaron Riccio of That Sounds Cool goes ga-ga for Daniel Roberts' quirky dark comedy, set in a dilapidated "haunted house" ride on the Jersey shore, while the Times' Neil Genzlinger is a bit more circumspect, finding the script and direction working at cross-purposes and dinging Roberts for some questionable content. Critical opinion drops off sharply from there, with most reviews finding both the play and production tedious, unbelievable, and/or offensive in turn. A few save some kind words for the cast and some aspects of Roberts' writing.

That Sounds Cool A+
(Aaron Riccio) There are no multimedia screens, no experimental dance breaks, no tricky narrative surprises; compared to most new American plays, Daniel Roberts's Haunted House is positively "analog"...Roberts's script...outs him as one of the most talented traditional dramatists working today...Roberts understands that what we assume to be irrelevant is far from meaningless, and so he evokes a genuine sorrow, the sort comes from losing hold of what we don't even realize is precious...A good haunted house is only as good as its ability to secret away its gears, and this is where Brian Ziv's direction plays such a vital role. He embeds every object on stage--from the plastic scythe to the static columns of Dominos--with real life...Above all, he heightens the terrific dialogue by ensuring that the actors each bring quirks to their role...The cast is the other thing Haunted House has going for it--no mere mechanical creepy-crawlies, these...Experience it for the terrific ride that it is: those goosebumps won't be from horror, but from hearing and seeing such sad, beautiful truth.

New York Times B-
(Neil Genzlinger) Daniel Roberts’s “Haunted House” is a when-worlds-collide play, which is both its strength and its problem. Bring two jarringly different entities together and you can get a lot of mileage out of incongruity, as Mr. Roberts does here, but you can also make it impossible for the actors or the audience to find a consistent tone. What you end up with is a work that is sparklingly original on the page but not as funny as it should be in performance...Mr. Roberts brings into the mix Peter (Jason Altman), Cy’s intellectually slow son, a character who sets back the cause of dignity for people with disabilities by a few hundred years, and Wendy (Meghan Miller), Peter’s half sister. You can probably guess what they’re up to, but Mr. Roberts finds some depth in the tawdriness.

Backstage C
(Mark Peikert) Unable to decide on one plot, Roberts has blithely tossed every idea that crossed his mind into the script. So we get a commentary on today's technology-obsessed generation, a past connection between Lucy and Peter, a missing matriarch, a faltering relationship, and the death of the Dunns' dreams—not to mention one very sordid secret relationship. Unfortunately, Roberts wasn't quite able to focus on any of the plots long enough to fully flesh it out. Director Brian Ziv attempts to cover up the play's deficiencies by keeping things moving, but perpetual motion can only accomplish so much...The cast's charisma can't disguise this Haunted House's obvious machinations.

Time Out NY D
(Helen Shaw) A nauseating evening. Roberts does one thing well: crank out snarky geek-speak, which is delivered—chilled to perfection—by an impassive Blaine. Only this actor remains impervious to the awfulness around him; poor Altman must try on his best Forrest Gump, and Miller and Cherkas both have to goggle besottedly at him. Presiding over it all, seemingly from miles away, is the father cum head ghoul (Jordan Charney), who must have shrieked every time another sloppy, wildly contradictory plot point leapt out of his script. Yes, Roberts wants to capture the sad-sack air of a defeated holiday-town entertainment, but you spend most of this show desperate for the end of the ride.

Theatermania F+
(David Finkle) Whatever Roberts is trying to do here beats me -- except that after a seemingly endless 85 minutes, I decided Roberts could be doing anything other than writing a coherent play...Wastes the talents of five apparently competent actors and director Brian Ziv. Or should I says six actors, since the awaited Sorcha (not credited in the program) returns at play's end and begins cleaning the outdoor grill. And all along I'd assumed she had read the play and had gotten out while the getting was good.

CurtainUp F
(Paulanne Simmons) Runs for 90 minutes with no intermission. Even so, four people managed to walk out when they could find a time when their leaving would not be too obtrusive. I was envious...Haunted House sounds as if it was written by a horny sixteen-year-old who spends ten hours a day looking at pornography on his computer and communicating over the Internet with people he hasn't met and doesn't particularly like. There's an extended scene in which Moses uses the bathroom several times, clogging the toilet and smelling up the room. Perhaps this is all in the interest of humor.

That Sounds Cool A+ 14; NY Times B- 9; Backstage C 7; Time Out NY D 3; Theatermania F+ 2; CurtainUp F 1; 36/7=5.14 (D+)


Aaron Riccio said...

I may be out on a limb, but I find it interesting that what Curtain Up detested (the dialogue) is what Time Out liked; whereas Time Out hated Jordan Charney, Backstage found him delightfully hammy (as you'd expect of a proud British actor slumming at a dying Haunted House). Whereas Backstage likes the director's attempt to keep things moving... well, you get the idea. Surprised, but I guess I understand. ::shrug::

David S said...

"What you end up with is a work that is sparklingly original on the page but not as funny as it should be in performance."

Not exactly the rave review they make it sound like... The quote is from tomorrow's NY Times article "Two Ghouls Collide on the Jersey Shore."