This is a review for WATCH: A Haunting. It is a play by Molly Rice, read at Mansions on Fifth and produced by Real/Time Interventions.
But preceding the review, please excuse this small diatribe on the nature of readings:
Readings are half-baked. That’s the point. Their final registry doesn’t exist yet; it’s being found. They are plays in flux waiting for feedback and the perfect sounds of rhythm. They are for actors to try things, for the writer to listen. They are for directors to plan and cut and encourage. But they are flawed and sometimes slow and confusing. You’re just hearing about something you should be able to visualize. The subtleties are lost because those choices have (for the most part) not been made.
So, it’s hard to put a finger on what was lacking in WATCH: A Haunting, and I feel that’s because of the nature of readings.
Let’s start with Mansions on Fifth, really a lovely, powerful building. Built in 1900, and finished in 1906; it has a weight to it, a sincere grandeur that places you anachronistically through the veil and into the ghost of the past. WATCH: A Haunting is a play about a haunted mansion. There is a girl, Vi, who is arrested by restlessness from hearing voices through the walls. There is a creepiness inherent, but I didn’t feel it from the space. Maybe it was the aspect of being cramped into a room and imagining the booming. I think the play would be able to utilize sound as a character in its final incarnation. The Mansion provided an aesthetic, but without seeing the basement or the characters move in the space, it felt a little bland.
It’s possible that the issue, in general, was tone. This play has comedy. It has horror. It has sentimentality. It has it all! The problem is perhaps too much. I felt the horror plotline was subverted by something that was confusingly sentimental. The ending, for that reason, didn’t seem to make sense.
There were also other storylines that were barely treaded on: a suspicious, ghostly woman from another time; a psychologist who exploits the main character for his own publicity. I was confused by their importance, though they did help to propel the questioning of the main character, Vi.
Julianne Avolio is a terrific actress, but as Vi I didn’t understand her character in this part. I didn’t quite see the lines matching her depiction. It was hard to tell, but I believe this play was supposed to ride on its comedy. I believed that she was supposed to be a tragi-comic character (with a torrid burden placed upon her). Avolio brought a wealth of desperation and anxiety to the role, but the lines felt like they could have used more goofy, childish wit. I was confused by it because it didn’t seem to connect.
There are wondrous stage directions written, including rats scurrying across the stage, an elephant throwing Vi into the air, and flowers popping out of the ground. One I felt immensely grand was:
One thousand bodies trickle into the room. We can only see their eyes gleaming.
How does this happen? I’m intrigued, but dumbfounded. It seems awesome, but I can’t imagine.
I believe that Molly Rice is an intriguing writer. This play has substance and is going in many places, but I feel that there was a disconnect in focus. I believe the mix of horror with comedy and an optimistic family drama could evolve well, but it’s composition didn’t seem to be complete. C’est la vie, re: reading.
Rice does bring solid imagery and dialogue to her characters. Her amorphous, but palpable descriptions speak of an idea that is powerfully, impossibly visceral. Vi describes the ghost as: “like in black and white, an old movie.” She says it smells like “old books and oranges.”
I will say too that Kimberly Parker Green as Vi’s mother Mona as well as Hazel LeRoy as Grandma truly felt within their characters. Green’s Mona produced a depth of denial and ambivalence that, I believe, reflected a complexity upon the mother of an ailing child; as if she was dealing but couldn’t deal. It was played with an empath’s heart but a mind for manipulation. And LeRoy’s Grandma did a splendid job with her bits for comic relief. I would have liked to see more.
There’s a version of this play in flux which creates a resolution tying all the sideplots together neatly. It throws the audience into a hallucination with its stunt-fueled stage presence. And there’s quite a bit of subtlety to exist between the pauses, but I believe it must be seen. Perhaps the text, like a ghost, reflects a hauntedness: old and smelling of oranges. I believe this show could be scary, sweet and deranged. I just can’t see it yet.
For more about Real/Time Interventions and what they’re up to this season, click here.