nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
October 14, 2009
"...horror just doesn't work on stage," says Brian, a character in Desi Moreno-Penson's new play Ghost Light. I beg to differ. So do the artists who put together this unsettling production. While a horror film may offer more average frights per minute, it can often (but not always) be at the expense of strong relatable characters and good acting. And even though the frightening moments in Ghost Light are few, they are live, therefore ten times as effective, something no movie theater can offer. And after spending the first half of the play really getting drawn in by fabulous acting and sharp dialogue, I was all the more surprised and creeped out by what occurred. I give a resounding "well-done" to director Jose Zayas and his team for proving Brian wrong.
The play begins with Natalie and Brian, struggling playwright and successful actor, respectively. Both are married, but have come to this cheap Manhattan motel for a little excitement after being reacquainted at a play reading. The motel room is rundown, and the wiring seems faulty, as the lights occasionally flicker. A security guard at the motel knocks on the door with a lost wallet and a claim that Brian and Natalie were placed in the room in error. Due to some abnormal occurrences in the room, the motel has ceased to rent it out. The guard, named Marty, knows a great deal about the room's history and is also a budding playwright. Much to Brian's dismay, Marty recognizes him from television and tries to pitch his own story to him, a story inspired by the room they are in.
Before Marty's arrival, the opening scene between Natalie and Brian is brilliant. The unease of the first moments is palpable and perfectly written and yet Moreno-Penson manages to believably bring them to the point where they are entangled passionately on the cheap bedspread, a tinny Mazzy Star song playing on the clock radio. The sex portion is perfectly executed and deeply arousing—in large part due to the stark truthfulness of the act, not just because you get too see the actors naked.
Although Moreno-Penson's dialogue is truly awesome, I had some issues with the story. Without giving away anything, there were plot points and schemes that did not seem totally fleshed out to me. I was confused and had unanswered questions afterwards about some choices made by the characters. The story definitely makes a lot of sharp angled turns but it didn't seem as smooth as it could have been.
Set designer Jason Simms creates a perfect seedy motel room and his choices of color and texture are inspired. Lighting designer Evan Purcell does great things here with the flickering hotel room lights and the nicely placed surreal changes, which aid the characters in stepping a bit outside the reality of the scene. These are tied together by the smooth and beautiful direction of Zayas. From well-placed and well-chosen sound, to his choices for the scarier moments, to how he directed that first establishing scene, it all works wonderfully.
All three actors are talented and engaging. Bryant Mason plays the subtleties of newly successful actor Brian with the perfect amount of guilt, excitement, and ego. Kate Benson is gifted with an edginess that works perfectly for the unstable Natalie, although I found at times it was difficult to relate to her because her unease is a bit too intense. And Hugh Sinclair is wonderfully creepy and pathetic as the obsessive Marty.
This play is not for the faint-of-heart, nor the prudish. And that's what makes it so fantastic. I enjoyed the ride immensely. Go check it out.