Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Grey House, on Broadway

There was a time when Broadway was the place for horror. It was a very different Broadway, when the masses could find an afternoon’s entertainment for the change in their pocket. It was also a very different horror, with plays like John Willard’s The Cat and the Canary and Adam Hull Shirk’s The Ape supplying a Scooby-Doo-style “rational” explanation (and a lot of killers in animal costumes). Horror has returned to Broadway, but the sensibilities are more contemporary and the terrors are much more explicit than those of the 1920s. Unfortunately, ticket prices also conform to 2020’s expectations. Frankly, getting snowed-in with a creepy family in the isolated cabin is bad in any genre, but the implications are especially fearful in Levi Holloway’s Grey House, directed by Joe Mantello, which officially opened last night on Broadway.

Technically, their car hit a deer, but it seems like an unseen force is mysteriously guiding Max and Henry to cabin in the woods. It is bitter cold out and Henry’s banged-up leg needs tending, but the modest home still feels sinister. Soon, the couple learns it is the abode of four pre-teen-to-teenaged girls and a silent young boy, who all have a rather strange relationship with Raleigh, their presumptive mother.

It is the 1970s, but all the girls behave like they stepped out of an earlier era. However, Henry quickly takes to the family’s medicine of choice: mysteriously glowing moonshine, each batch of which carries a man’s name. The couple is in big trouble, which they sort of recognize, but they do not realize how bad things are until the girls invite Max to play their sinister (and possibly lethal) games.

The producers of
Grey House can hyphenate its categories all the like, but there is definitely horror in there. There is even a spot of gore, which would be modest by Evil Dead standards, but is quite impressive for a live stage drama. In fact, there are a lot of clever visual effects that might not be prohibitively expensive or complex, but look really impressive from the audience’s perspective. There are things that suddenly shine or appear and disappear that create a potent atmosphere of mystery and dread. Frankly, some of revelations is Grey House are more shocking than they would be in a movie, because as a play, you are seeing it “live.”

Tatiana Maslany and Paul Sparks nicely suggest deep stress-fractures in Max and Henry’s marriage, without ever fully spelling out their issues. Yet, they also convince us there is enough shared history there for Max to be profoundly concerned for Henry. Laurie Metcalf is terrific as Raleigh, whose earthiness and profound sadness provide an essential counterpoint to the creepy girls, who could have stepped out of
Picnic at Hanging Rock or a V.C. Andrews novel.

The premise of
Grey House is not entirely unfamiliar to horror fans, but Mantello’s execution is surprisingly effective. The sets are richly detailed and tackily lived-in looking (if you call that living), while Tom Gibbons’ sound design is the eerie X-factor that amplifies the foreboding vibe. Wisely, it never fully spells out its secrets, leaving some room for interpretation and debate. Grey House represents a bit of a moment for horror, but it is not likely to attract a lot of tour bus business, so if you are interested, you should try to see it sooner rather than later. Highly recommended for adventurous theater patrons, Grey House is now officially open, at the Lyceum Theatre.

(Photo © Matthew Murphy)