BWW Review: Some Judicious Editing Could Create a Hit With ACT 1's NIGHTMARIUM INCIDENT
Eric Butler is a good writer. That is obvious from his thoroughly believable, unquestionably authentic dialogue he's crafted for The Nightmarium Incident, the original suspense thriller he's written for ACT 1's 2019-20 season and concluding its two-weekend run at Nashville's Darkhorse Theater tonight. But sometimes that can mean too much of a good thing - when a writer tends to overwrite, as is the case with this sort-of-spooky comedy-drama that seems uncertain of what it wants to be.
That's unfortunate because audiences, at this time of year particularly, want to have the bejeezus scared out of them when they enter a darkened theater with the promise of something sinister and off-kilter about to transpire on a stage before their very eyes. With The Nightmarium Incident, however, there's just too much exposition, far too much talking-talking-talking that delays the pay-off in a play that is neither funny enough to be a comedy, nor dramatic enough to be a tragedy.
With some judicious editing, however, The Nightmarium Incident could become a Halloween season staple.
Set within the confines of a local television station, circa 1988, during the filming of The Nightmarium Creature Double Feature (the sort of late night horror flick show that was popular - cheap to produce, easy to sell to advertisers - during the 20th century) on a particularly troublesome Friday night during which a storm is brewing, tensions are building and everyone seems on the verge of getting their panties in a wad due to workplace bickering and back-biting. Hosted by the glamourous Mistress Twilight (played with sex appeal underscored by plenty of intensity by Natalie Stone), the show airs on Channel 9, WKIL-TV, where the cast and crew battle for recognition and air time with the hoity-toity news division, led by anchor Bill Haig (Matt Smith very nearly steals the show, thanks to his impeccable comic timing and way with an ad-lib) and his on-set cohort Sherri Peterson (Alyssa Borg).
Those central characters are surrounded by a group of co-workers, including Jarvis Bynum as Mistress Twlight's co-star and real-life husband; Beth Henderson as a gender-bending weathercaster; TJ Koomen as the technical director of the late night double feature picture show (and that's pretty much as close as they come to ripping off The Rocky Horror Show); Steven Kraski as the station's lone custodian Luke, who longs for a more fulfilling and creative career; Joseph Hudson as cameraman Joe, who seems at least one or two tokes over the line; Emmanuelle Loyer as floor manager Rhonda, the kind of no-nonsense young woman who became a staple of 1980s-era workplace horror movies; and Tori Simpson and Elizabeth Turner, cast as a pair of fun-loving puppeteers whose lives are taken over by some miscreant voodoo dolls, summoned forth by incantations read from a book picked up at a flea market.
There may be too many characters in on the action to keep the story straight and sometimes, it seems, that characters are forgotten when they aren't onstage - only to reappear when the plot needs them. Act One seems hampered by the pages of dialogue that establish the characters and their interpersonal connections rather than advancing the horrific elements of the suspense tale that seems rather hackneyed. If the dialogue is tightened up, the story will become more relevant and, clearly, more suspenseful and a two-act show of more than two hours could become a sharply written, fast-moving one act of 90 minutes or less.
Everything is in place in Butler's script to make the show a success; he just needs to cut extraneous and oftentimes repetitive (read: boring) dialogue and excise a character or two in order to achieve a better play. The playwright does double-duty as director, however, and that may be the show's undoing. It's often well-advised to bring in another set of discerning eyes to glean the best material from a script with which the writer is, quite frankly, too closely connected.
The show's attributes? The actors are all on the same page, as it were, and they play their sometimes over-written roles to the hilt. Stone is terrific as the ambitious show host, who longs for a break in the news business, while Bynum delivers the goods as her husband. Kraski is terrific as the station's janitor, but he's even more compelling once he succumbs to the evil spirits and becomes, for all intents and purposes, a short-lived zombie. Loyer is effective as the all-business floor manager and Hudson has some nice moments as the camera operator with a penchant for going off-topic.
Kristen DuBois' lighting design sets the proper tone and Kaitlin Barnett's sound design seems eerily creepy, while Brooklyn Hughes' costumes are certainly on-trend for 1988.
The Nightmarium Incident. Written and directed by Eric Butler. Presented by ACT 1, at The Darkhorse Theatre, Nashville. Through October 19. For details, go to www.ACT1Online.com. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).