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A CurtainUp Review
Apparition: an uneasy play of the underknown

My heart is pounding terribly but it is a muscle and I clench it and step forward. And then from no where and nothing the room plunges into dark --- Character E

T. Ryder Smith
T. Ryder Smith
(Photo: Aaron Epstein)
Apparition, now playing at the lovely Connelly theatre, takes on the subject of ghostly appearances and hauntings. Eerie dim lighting, costumes with decaying Victorian elements, and the spookiest sound design prepare the audience for some good ghost stories. Unfortunately, the title seems to be a malapropism: the plot is rarely transparent, often opaque. Like little ghosts, the meaning of the play becomes apparent at rare intervals -- and we are certainly frightened to think that we have been blind to the plotlines throughout.

Accomplished director Les Waters does the best he can with the convoluted text, especially given that writer Anne Washburn's stage directions state: "With certain interesting exceptions, to be determined by the director, characters shall not move within scenes." Those rare moments of movement are notable. One of the most memorable scenes is between a devil and his demon (the excellent T. Ryder Smith and the underused Garrett Neergaard), in which the demon eats the flesh of a small animal (cat or dog, he is unsure which, but he eats them because he likes "to crunch all the tiny bones"). He is then circled like prey by the devil, trying to convince him to eat a dead baby in a paper bag.

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There are also other elements of story embedded within the flurry of text. Many characters deliver (albeit non-moving) monologues about eerie coincidences. Maria Dizza plays a weary traveler telling of her first night in a new apartment, which has whispering phone lines, and mysterious pounding at her door. This story certainly gave me the creeps: remembering nights lying awake listening to the creaks of an unfamiliar home.

Nearly every frightening monologue ends identically with the lights failing, and the character describing being left in the dark in haunted environs. The lighting design also keeps the characters often in the dark. This design element seems to be the most integrated and sophisticated, defining the environment of the scenes. The author also gives another directive in her playtext: "Space is defined by light." and lighting designer Jane Cox uses an incredible variety of often dim light sources: reading lights over music stands, flashlights in the dark, glowing masks, and a glimpse of a face in a window.

From the moment the house lights begin to dim, Darren West's sound design warns us of the frightening things to come. His deft attention to detail creates a world where you are not scared by what is said, but what you think is heard. In this play, where each story finds one or all of the characters frozen with fear, West's soundscape plunges you into the character's nightmare. Whether they be growls of unearthly beasts or faint whispers that beckon softly from the dark, the audience members cringe in their seats. The thoughtful aural nuances help Mr. Waters' production sustain a level of tension that needs to be present to carry the audience through these dark woods.

The strong cast and the support by a wonderful production team, notwithstanding, the underlying text is missing enough coherence to give these elements sense. There are enough frightening moments to keep the audience alert, but there is not enough meaning in the language for the stories to haunt us when we get home. What stays is the searing image of a dimly lit face in a window, a glowing mask, a high pitched crackle.

Playwright: Anne Washburn
Directed by Les Waters
Cast: Maria Dizza, Emily Donahoe, David Andrew McMahon, Garrett Neergaard, T. Ryder Smith
Set Design: Andromache Chalfant
Lighting Design by Jane Cox Costume Design: Christal Weatherly
Sound Design: Darron L West
Running time: Approximately 90 minutes 1hour 28 minutes
Connelly Theater, 220 East 4th Street, (Ave. A/B) 212-352-3101
From 11/28/05 to 1/07/06; opening 12/04/05
Monday Wednesday at 8 p.m., Thursday at 7 p.m. & 10p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 7pm. Performances vary over the holidays. Check with theater for showtimes.
Tickets: $35-50
Reviewed by Liza Zapol based on 12/03/05 performance
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