Late nights at Summer Circle Theatre: "The Weird" through June 28. Photo: Summer Circle Theatre

A 'Weird' Night Of Theater Under A Full Moon

By Bridgette M. Redman

It's a daunting task to attempt to pull off horror on the stage.

Even on the screen where special effects can be minutely managed, horror more often comes across as camp than true terror. When the audience is live, the task is even more arduous. It's why many stage versions of horror and suspense lean toward humor, intentional camp or even satire.

The script now being played at Michigan State University's Summer Circle late-night show just isn't up to the task. It wavers between humor and suspense and never quite achieves either. "The Weird" relies on its audience being fans of horror and familiar with such stories as "The Fly," "Rosemary's Baby," and "Tales from the Crypt." With few exceptions, the stories have weak endings that either rely on a punch line or peter out somewhat meaninglessly.

The 2005 play by Roberto Aguirre Sacasa is a series of sketches set in the suspense/horror genre. Too often the timing is just off to make things either scary or funny.

The opening night production of this late-night show got off to a rocky start. The pre-show music stopped and the actors took the stage and nothing happened for a while. One of the actors even shouted out something to a professor in the audience about how they wanted to get started. It lacked any sort of distinct beginning as they just sort of fell into the play once they felt they had the audience's attention rather than doing something to grab their attention.

Caitlin Dunlap was the host, going by the name of M.T. Grave. She had the unenviable job of wrapping up each sketch and introducing the next one. The transitions were written with little thought to mood or how to bring the audience in and out of one story to the next. Dunlap moved with the ease of a ringmaster, though she sometimes spoke too quickly to readily follow her lines. She did, though, interact well with the sparse late-night audience.

The remaining members of the five-person ensemble were Beau Bielski, Madelayne Shammas, Kara O'Connor and Cory Weatherup. They quickly stripped behind a curtained backdrop, changing in and out of Ryan Bennett's costumes, sometimes donning wigs, changing hairstyles and bringing out a number of different props (Hernando Claros) that decorated wood crates to create each of the different scenes.

Technically, the show worked, with lighting, sound and set all contributing what they could to those things the script called for.

For actors, the show presents a fun challenge with roles that change quickly and minimalistic stylizing. They tell stories quickly, sometimes breathily. For audiences, the experience is not as satisfying.

The first story, "Bloody Mary," takes too long to get to the conclusion, and then the timing is off to make it work as a piece of suspense. The sketch about the fly has an ending that just peters off and then has to be explained away by the narrator.

The strongest two sketches are the last two. The one set in a swamp has sufficiently interesting setting and characters to make it work up to the final line, though the sister sped up and got muddled in her accent at crucial moments.

The final story was the one that came closest to having an identity and knowing what it wanted to be from start to finish, even with the narrator flitting through like a macabre Tinkerbell.

While "The Weird" was promoted as being appropriate for ages 14 and older, it is worth noting that there is frequent strong language and sexual situations.

"The Weird" takes its cues from cult classic horror stories, but fails to rise above its niche audience to reach a more general one. Even an outdoor production under a full moon on a Friday the 13th couldn't deliver the requisite spookiness for this play to make any spines tingle.

REVIEW:

'The Weird'

Summer Circle Theatre at Michigan State University Auditorium Building on the lawn by the Red Cedar River, Grand River and Auditorium Road, East Lansing. Approximately 10 p.m. June 14, 20-21 & 27-28. Free. 517-355-6690. http://www.theatre.msu.edu/index.php/productions/summer-circle-theatre

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