BWW Review: THE HAUNTING HOUR Presents a Mercurial Look at the Macabre
In his directorial debut at Portland Stage, acclaimed actor Dustin Tucker has created an intriguing theatrical evening featuring a potpourri of horror tales by Maine authors, told with a mercurial blend of wit and terror. The brilliantly theatrical eighty-minute piece, which is based on six stories and short plays by John Cariani, Tess Gerritsen, Ike Hamill, Chris F. Holm, Callie Kimball and Stephen King, employs a wide variety of staging devices, and runs the gamut in tone and mood - all combining for a sophisticated and satisfying experience.
The tales are cleverly adapted for four actors, each of whom assumes a number of roles, and the narrative line flows smoothly with well-oiled transitions, including one very funny choreographed scene change that helps switch the mood from the explosive end of "TSA" to the next comic sequence. The many emotions and feelings that horror inspires in human beings are probed with both psychological acuity and tongue-in-cheek humor, so that the genuinely scary alternates with the hugely funny with dizzying rapidity. It is this rapid-fire roller coaster that makes the even so thrilling and delightful.
The tone of the material varies as well with the opening story by Chris F. Holm, "The Well" a poetic and classic horror tale; Ike Hamill's "TSA" and Callie Kimball's "The Right One" genuinely terrifying in their build-up to the violent ends; John Cariani's "The Wish" and Stephen Kin's "The Boogeyman" touching, two-character psychological studies, while Tess Gerritsen's "Gross Anatomy" is used as running gage to provide comic relief.
Dustin Tucker, wll-known for his work at Portland Stage, especially his one-man tour de force shows like "The Vigil" and "Buyer and Cellar," proves to be as deft and agile in the director's chair, as he does on stage as a performer. He calibrates the shifting moods with precision and perfect balance; he adds wicked and whimsical touches, and he understands the necessity of suspenseful timing. Best of all, he chooses a variety of theatrical techniques from puppetry and shadow play, to multi-media, to intense realism in order to convey the material to its best advantage.
He is aided by the expressive sound effects of Seth Asa Sengel, especially the musical underscoring, and the film noir lighting style of Corey Anderson. These, together with Meg Anderson's simple ghostly white décor and Kathleen P. Brown's mood-specific costumes complete the experience in the intimate black box setting of the Portland Studi,o Theatre. Special mention to Shannon Wade's haunting puppet in "The Wish" and to Eric Anderson for the gory special effects makeup in "Gross Anatomy."
The four-person cast performs with relish. Moira Driscoll is a creepy narrator in "The Well" and an especially scary schizophrenic ghoulish murderer in "The Right One." Sally Wood plays a trio of quirky women, finding the individual characters in each and creating genuine terror as the victim in "The Right One." Sean Ramey is a wise and touching genie in "The Wish," an officious security officer in "TSA," and a soft-spoken psychiatrist with a twist in "The Boogeyman." Kip Chris Davis gives a riveting performance of the tormented father "The Boogeyman" and a humorous one in "TSA." in For fans of Portland Stage, Dustin Tucker video's appearance in "Gross Anatomy" is a prize cameo moment, as are the brief, satiric inclusion of a number of faces well known to the Portland theatre community.
The Haunting Hour is an original, entertaining, visceral theatrical creation that celebrates the Halloween season in an especially classy way. Moreover, it taps into the audience's complex feelings about horror stories - from titillation to repulsion, disbelief to genuine fear, and palliative humor to dark, deep-seated anxiety. Kudos to the entire creative and literary teams and especially to Dustin Tucker for conceiving and creating this imaginative, edgy, innovative work.
Photos courtesy of Dustin Tucker and Portland Stage