Written by Patrick Chavis
Horror and Suspense are genres which require an extremely delicate touch. They’re just as frightening to produce as they are to write. When done well they can catapult a person into stardom—I like to call this the Shyamalan Effect (1. see below for definition). Both genres are effective because they feed on your expectations, and when successful, these stories connect with you on a cathartic level. Hitchcock bottled the suspense formula, while M. Night Shyamalan and countless other film directors having much more success in these genres than their theatrical counterparts. This seems preposterous to me. Theoretically when it’s done correctly theatre should be much scarier than film because of the psychological proximity to the action. A failure to not implement, or at least take into consideration, the impact of creating a sense of danger for the audience is shunning one of things that makes theatre unique and special above all other forms of art – THE FACT THAT IT’S ALIVE!
In my experience of Orange County theatre so far, the directors putting on horror and or/shows centering on suspense are not competent enough to really highlight the genres’ best qualities. However this is not an issue limited to Orange County. I do not think the theatre world has really explored the genre of horror much. There are a few examples of theatre doing horror well (look to the article below for examples). Unfortunately, Brandon Ferruccio’s production of The Univited cannot be added to that list. It supplies some drama, but the play’s ultimate resolution falls gravely (pun intended) short.
The Uninvited is the story of siblings Roddy (Mike Martin) and Pam Fitzgerald (Elizabeth M. Desloge), who decide to purchase a seaside house for very little money. It turns out the Fitzgeralds are in for more then they bargained for when they discover someone connected to the former owner’s daughter Stella (played by Meredith Culp) is haunting the house.
The director’s note gave me adequate cause for concern. Ferruccio says in the first few words
“when I first glanced at the script of “The Uninvited” I did not have high hopes for it.”
He goes on to explain how he assumed the script would be similar to a lot of other generic ghost stories that focus on frightening or shocking people. He really enjoyed that this ghost story had more depth and relied more on the characters and their connection to Stella. I would say he probably took a lot of that to heart, and it probably was his intention to show more depth within the characters in order to elicit a feeling of horror. But I do believe there is a disconnect between what Ferruccio wanted to do with this script and what the script actually contains. We learn very little about any of the characters. At most we only get a glib understanding of Pam and Roddy Fitzgerald. The main characters that receive real character development are Stella and the House, which has more development in this story than most of the living characters. I did more research into this play and discovered a lot in regards to characters’ motivations and their feelings while being at the house. A lot of these deeper feelings from the characters fail to come through in this production. There is brief mention of Roddy being attracted to Stella, which is why he allows her to have access to the house. It’s kind of thrown away and has very little impact on the story besides the fact that she can seemingly now come to the house whenever see wants.
(Correction: Roddy and Pam are actually siblings, no infidelity between them exists)
The acting and personality from the maid Lizzie Flynn (Amy Lauren Getty) is a wonderful break from much of the sedentary banter going on in the middle of the living room. Getty’s Flynn is strong and disruptive while still maintaining her servant’s status. The play has quite a few derogatory jabs at Irish culture – reminding us all there was a time when the Irish weren’t seen in a very positive light.
Jessica Haro does a wonderful job of fitting into the character of Wendy Carey. Not only does her character push the action of the story when she introduces a Ouija (or spirit) board into the story, Carey’s enthusiasm and curious attitude towards the unknown make her a very fascinating character. Her whole demeanor is pretty much”I know it’s dangerous, but who cares because I want to see where this rabbit hole leads.”
The main leads Roddy Fitzgerald (Mike Martin), Pam Fitzgerald (Elizabeth M. Desloge) and Meredith Culp (Stella Meredith) are incredibly safe throughout the entire production. During the more dramatic moments, they are pretty underwhelming. However, without giving too much away, Mike Martin does pull off a very funny line in the play, and I would be remiss to not point it out.
Another exciting moment is when Stella runs out of the house and towards the cliff. The emotion and tension created are wonderfully done, and I felt a genuine concern for the characters at that very moment.
While taking on the challenge of The Uninvited is admirable, The Westminster Playhouse had a hard time making any of its characters interesting thus leaving the audience to wait for a shock or scare that never really comes.
October 16-November 1, 2015
Okay – but needs work
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- Shyamalan effect – Creating successful stories that are pretty much bad, but are redeemed because of an ability to create interesting twists at the end.
Look to these links for other articles on Horror & Theatre.