Written by Patrick Chavis
Horror and suspense are genres that 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 have had much more success in these genres than their theatrical counterparts. This seems preposterous to me. Theoretically, when 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 the things that make theatre unique and special above all other forms of art – THE FACT THAT IT’S ALIVE!
In my experience of Orange County theatre, the directors putting on horror and/or/shows centering on suspense are not competent enough to highlight the genre’s best qualities. However, this is not an issue limited to Orange County. I do not think the theatre world has explored the horror genre 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 Uninvited cannot be added to that list. It supplies some drama, but the play’s ultimate resolution falls short (pun intended).
The Uninvited is the story of siblings Roddy (Mike Martin) and Pam Fitzgerald (Elizabeth M. Desloge), who purchase a seaside house for little money. It turns out the Fitzgeralds are in for more than 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 explains how he assumed the script would be similar to many other generic ghost stories focusing on frightening or shocking people. He 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 to elicit a feeling of horror. But I believe there is a disconnect between what Ferruccio wanted to do with this script and what the show 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 have more development in this story than most of the living characters. I did more research into this play and discovered a lot regarding the characters’ motivations and feelings while at the house. Many of these deeper feelings from the characters fail to come through in this production. There is a brief mention of Roddy being attracted to Stella, which is why he allows her access to the house. It’s thrown away and has minimal impact on the story besides the fact that she can now come to the house whenever she wants.
(Correction: Roddy and Pam are siblings, no infidelity between them exists)
The acting and personality of the maid Lizzie Flynn (Amy Lauren Getty) is a beautiful break from much of the sedentary banter in the middle of the living room. Getty’s Flynn is intense and disruptive while 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 an Ouija (or spirit) board into the story, Carey’s enthusiasm and curious attitude towards the unknown make her a fascinating character. Her demeanor is, “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 hilarious line in the play, and I would be remiss not to 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 it 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.