Knock, knock! Who's there?

The Incubus

By John Chatterton
Directed by Jon Cable
The Impact Theatre
612 8th Ave., 2nd fl. (691-2014)
Non-union production (closes April 12th)
Review by Scott Vogel

First, a trip to the lexicon. A succubus, in case you're interested in becoming or acquiring one, is a demon of sorts who, descending from the ether, takes on a female form in order to have sex with unsuspecting men while they sleep. As one can imagine, these nocturnal deviants create no end of trouble for the male population (not to mention their percale sheets). And women must beware as well -- a similar creature, the incubus, eagerly awaits his chance to enter the beds of sleeping females (perhaps those who, understandably, doze off while reading The Rules?)

Now, this is all fine for those interested in heterosexual demons, but what about the rest of our grandly diverse society? Can they hope to find a, er, homobus? Well, Dr. Robert Vickers (Daniel Haughey), the protagonist of Mr. Chatterton's play, would seem to have discovered such a creature in the person of Michael (Patrick Lacey), an attractive young spiritualist who apparently specializes in same-sex seances, as well as "table-turning, spirit-rapping, materialization of light objects, and representation of spirit voices." In short he is a medium, a man capable of conjuring up the voice of, say, Vickers's late friend Edward, to whom the doctor is still rabidly devoted. The conceit here is that although Vickers is a respected scientist (a "Fellow of the Royal Society"), he cannot resist suspension of disbelief, particularly since Michael -- although smothered in layers of glow paint and attired in a hideous old bathrobe -- is a dead ringer for Edward when the lights are out.

This intriguing tale takes place in Victorian London, which in part explains the script's nod to 19th-century melodramatic plotting and characterization. Michael and his confederate Mr. Smythe (John Reiniers) are inveterate charlatans who take advantage of Vickers's social standing (and closet-case mentality) to win money and publicity for themselves. As the audience is fully aware of Michael's deception early on, the drama's main concern, at least in its first half, is Vickers's conversion from man of reason to salivating spiritualist. Ten minutes into the play, however, Vickers professes absolute belief in Michael's powers, after only a single demonstration. (And a not-particularly-convincing demonstration at that. The most gullible child in London would not be fooled by Michael's table-rising or glow-in-the-dark trumpet.) And so, for a time, the dramatic action comes to a dead stop.

Then, just as spiritualism owes its popularity to its ability to comfort suffering souls, Michael's conjurings bring a kind of solace to the repressed doctor, and here the play proves to be of greater interest. The seance is explicitly equated with sexual intercourse. ("Sometimes I feel dizzy and pass out," Michael says of his trances. "Did you ever have to fake it for the old ladies?" asks Vickers.) If, as suggested in the program by Mr. Chatterton -- who is the editor of oobr -- The Incubus is a study for a longer play, then revisions should further investigate the dramatic (and comic) possibilities of the seance as spiritual and sexual landscape.

Mr. Cable's direction, except for some occasional unmotivated blocking, was quite good, and he elicited credible performances from all three actors. If Mr. Haughey's performance stands out, it's because of his layered portrayal and consistency of accent; the others had periodic trouble with Britspeak. Which begs the question of whether The Incubus need be set in London at all. As any number of writers have attested, from Twain to Howells to James, table-tipping mediums were just as popular stateside, if not more so.

(Costumes by Carla Gant.)

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Acting: 1
Directing: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1
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Copyright 1998 Scott Vogel