Now you see it...

Apparition: an uneasy tale of the underknown

By Anne Washburn
Directed by Linsay Firman
125 W. 42nd St. (212/868-4444 or
Equity showcase (closes Nov. 23)
Review by Brittney Jensen

The star of Apparition was lighting designer Matt Frey, assisted by Scott Bolman. His use of light and copious darkness combined with Erik Flatmo's sparse but evocative set and Shane Rettig's eerie sound to create a genuinely spooky atmosphere for this play about witches, demons, and other frightening entities.

The play opened with five actors scattered on stage, each lit with a single ghostly light he or she held, like the old slumber-party flashlight-on-the-face trick, but much more effective. As the actors muttered disparate fragments of scary stories, the audience waited for the play to start. They waited for the spoken flotsam to come together and make sense. But neither hoped-for event happened. Random scenes and nonsensical interludes shaped 75 minutes of mostly pretentious tedium only partially relieved by the thick atmosphere, strong production values, and occasional flashes of intriguing dialog.

The segments, loosely connected in their ghastly themes, include two demons discussing dinner, a lengthy retelling of Macbeth, and a woman chanting fake Latin with candles. The narrative scenes were generally more engaging than the interludes where the actors interrupted each other's non-linear declaiming to the audience. The most interesting moments were when a single actor described, in the first person, a terrifying moment involving mysterious creeping attackers. At least for a few minutes, the writing didn't force the audience to unsuccessfully strain to piece together what was going on; instead the play just frightened and, more importantly, entertained.

The ensemble cast, which included Steve Rattazzi, David Brooks, T. Ryder Smith, Scott Blumenthal, and Heidi Schreck, was exceptionally strong in the narrative scenes, and did their best with the disconnected orations. Schreck had an especially moving monolog as a woman in a dark attic who may be bleeding to death. Directed by Linsay Firman, the acting was vigorous but believable, although the actors couldn't quite make Washburn's halting speech, with frequent mid-sentence interruptions, sound natural.

Overall, the production was smooth and polished, thanks to a large crew that included master carpenter Joe Cairo, electricians Mark Simmons and James Patrick Ging, and sound operator Kenneth Armour. The costumes of designer Sarah Beers and her assistants Merav Elbaz and Hannah Bassett were simple but effective. In one scene two men were transformed into demons with minimal but telling accessories. Witch masks designed by Manju Shandler were appropriately grotesque.

During the play, an unidentified character says that once he woke up to see a demon in his room. He can't remember exactly what the demon said to him; he describes it as meaningless small talk, like conversations you overhear on a bus. Unfortunately this description applies to too many moments in the script of this otherwise promising production.


  Box Score:

Writing: 0
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2003 Brittney Jensen