I freaking love a good ghost story. The best ones have me simultaneously on the edge of my seat and shoving my body back into the couch, hiding my face while watching through my fingers because I cannot look away.
Ghosts by Elford Alley and directed by Kathleen Bart really wants to be one of those best ghost stories, and I give them credit for trying. At times I saw elements of an episode of Stranger Things or a really fascinating Black Mirror plot.
It is an excellent premise: Levi (Evan Crump) found – or was drawn to by otherworldly forces? – a mysterious box. When he and his wife, Abby (Briana Boldon), turn it on, it blows out all the lights in their home and creepy things start happening. Things that are creepy enough that Evan moves and won’t return to that house.
But he keeps the box. Why? Because Levi has discovered that he can use the box to speak with the dead. And at some point (the timeline is a little unclear), Abby dies in a horrific car accident. So Levi gets the box working again and leaves it on, determined to speak to her one last time.
Even when ghosts turn up from beyond the grave and beg him to destroy it. Even as his health deteriorates. Even though he has an unwelcome visitor who won’t leave his bedroom.
The box stays on, a beacon to the other side. As Evan slowly unravels, you learn that maybe he wasn’t the perfect husband, and his motives are called into question. And I just wanted him to hang on long enough for my questions to be answered.
closes July 29, 2018
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And therein lies the hook of Ghosts, but also, for me, its downfall. The show kept me on the edge of my seat wanting to figure out just what the heck was going on. But on some of its biggest mysteries, it didn’t deliver. Too much was left unexplained, and as the lights came up at the end of the performance, I found myself thinking, “Wait, that was it?!” The primary conflict was wrapped up too neatly with a little bow while the ancillary questions it brought up were neglected.
That isn’t to say it isn’t a show worth seeing, because it is. Evan Crump is excellent as Levi, cycling through the emotions of mourning one after another as his body starts to fall apart on him and he begins to question his own mind. The script grapples with death and grief and regret. It makes the supernatural an everyday part of life.
It also has some fun physical work in a scene in which the other side gets a little too close for Levi’s comfort, and the cast makes the most of a thrust stage.
The real standout among the technical elements, though, is the music. DJ MisS Guided could have been creating the soundtrack to a feature film with her underscoring. It was just the right atmosphere to get me tingly all over, wondering what was coming next. Unfortunately the sound effects dropped into the score took me out of the creepy vibe – often just a little too loud or misplaced in the space to meld seamlessly with the action on the stage.
But the final bummer for me was that any good ghost story should be scary, and Ghosts just didn’t get there in my opinion. There was no hair-raising reveal that Evan’s companion in the first scene was a ghost, because it was too easy to put it together from context clues based on the Fringe show blurb and what was happening on stage.
It tried to add a component of eerieness by having the actors come out in cloaks between scenes to interact with the audience (don’t sit in the front row if that isn’t your thing!), and even had a wraith character, but something about all the efforts failed to ring true. I wasn’t able to get past the reality of ‘actors on a stage’ enough to be drawn in by the creepiness, and that kept the show from being truly terrifying.
But if you love a good ghost story, it’s an enjoyable way to spend an hour. Let me know if you see it, and we can discuss our theories about the unanswered questions over coffee.
Ghosts by Elford Alley . Directed by Kathleen Barth . Featuring Evan Crump and Briana Boldon . Presented at Capital Fringe 2018 . Reviewed by Alison Daniels.