BWW Review: THE HAUNTING 2.0 Proves To Be Sophisticated Sequel
Dustin Tucker's THE HAUNTING 2.0, presented in the Studio Series at Portland Stage, proves to be a sophisticated and fascinating sequel to last season's inaugural Halloween event. Shaping six horror stories by Maine writers into an imaginative, often chilling dramatic sequence, Tucker's piece explores the psychological dimensions of terror with a combination of visceral fear and dark humor.
Employing six actors and five individual directors, Tucker has adapted literary works by Joe Hill and Rick Hautala for the stage, while vignettes by Monica Wood, Callie Kimball and Ian Carlsen are presented in the author's original dialogue. Bizarre video footage and screen visual and sound effects help to make the transitions and link the works, just as they create a creepy yet spellbinding context. Meg Anderson's white-on-white decor with its crumpled backdrop that adds to the feeling of fractured time and space is at once attractive and unsettling, while Kathleen P. Brown supplies the simple costumes in black and neutral tones. Corey Anderson's lighting manages suspenseful effects using minimalist devices - such as hand held lanterns and flashlights choreographed with the staging to create weird angles and perspectives - and sound designer Seth Asa Sengel complements the pieces with just the right subtle underscoring of frightening sounds. Stage Manager Alex Kimmel anchors the work and contributes to its coherence.
The opening sequence is a powerful video, created by Olivia Spinale, featuring young Portland actor/poet Allan Monga in a recitation from H. W. Longfellow's Haunted Houses. Born in Zambia, Monga, who won first place in Maine's Poetry Out Loud Contest last year was barred from competing in the national finals because of his immigrant status, but won his place in a highly publicized lawsuit against the NEA. His very presence in THE HAUNTING 2.0 makes a moving statement, as does his elegant and insightful reading of the text.
Monica Wood's short piece, Apology,directed by Moira Driscoll, explores the encounter of two mourners, Erik Moody and Bridgette Loraine, at adjoining graves as they discover the surreally serendipitous intersections of their lives and experiences. Ian Carlsen's Spotted Dream Spider, directed by Shannon Wade, features a dark, spooky performance by Hannah Daly. Sally Wood directs Joe Hill's Last Breath with taut pacing rising slowly and eerily to the predictable but nonetheless gripping conclusion. The quartet of actors, Erik Moody as the mad "scientist," Bridgette Loraine and Joe Bearor as the dubious parents, and Antonio Luc Hernandez as the weirdly complicit child, all give pitch perfect performances.
The two closing pieces of the evening offer the most overt horror. Callie Kimball's The Death Closet, directed by Todd Brian Backus, is a cleverly written dystopian parable about a princess and a peasant and the depths of darkness to which human beings can descend. Hannah Daly as the self-absorbed, willful, cruel princess makes the perfect foil to Bridgette Loraine's earthy peasant, and the twists in the plot add to the dimension of the experience. Rick Hautala's The Hum,directed with stylized precision and menace by Dustin Tucker and performed with gradually building tension by the adult quartet of actors, makes a fitting conclusion to the evening.
It is a pleasure to see Portland Stage's Studio Theatre perform such truly original, Maine-made, vivid theatrical work. Kudos to the company and to Dustin Tucker for the creative vision behind this project. May we hope for THE HAUNTING 3.0 next year?
Photos courtesy of Portland Stage and Dustin Tucker