OK, so, a minor editorial snafu resulted in two critics being sent to the same show. ERGO, I won’t be offering up a full review of Roustabout Theatre Troupe‘s new production of Joseph Zettelmaier‘s “Haunted: The Great Lakes Ghost Project,” a devised theater piece, after all. (Hilariously, my replacement assignment is – wait for it – a Joseph Zettelmaier show, this time produced by The Penny Seats!) Anyhoo, since I did see the opening night performance of “Haunted,” and the Rousties were kind enough to have me out, I thought I’d at least share a kind of bulletpoint micro-review.
* Though this is a bit “Inside Baseball,” I will confess that one of the pleasures of the show was watching Dan Johnson do his level best (and really impressive) Zettelmaier impression – from vocal inflection to facial expressions, right down to his style of dress. Those who know the local playwright will very much enjoy Johnson’s dead-on “homage.”
* Dan assumes the character of Joe, of course, because the show is built around a quest the playwright actually took to gather Michigan-based ghost stories (including those involving Wayne State’s Bonstelle Theatre) and explore the state’s reputed “ghost towns.” Shows like this can often feel like a mishmash, but Zettelmaier crafts it all together with sure-handed skill. The transitions between tales, and the overall build and structure, generally feel smooth and natural, and that apparent “effortlessness,” I know full well, belies the considerable challenges of the form. An impressive feat of creation.
* The Ypsi Experimental Space, while probably not ideal for other kinds of shows, is quite well-suited for “Haunted.” The audience is packed into a tight, dimly-lit space, providing a sense of collective claustrophobia before the lights even go down. Director Anna Simmons – with crucial atmospheric contributions from sound and projections designer Will Myers, lighting designer Dustin D. Miller, and scenic designer Jennifer Maiseloff – manages to create several chilling moments by way of some pretty creative staging choices (executed by the talented cast, which also includes Julia Garlotte, Alysia Kolascz, and Allison Megroet). “Haunted” isn’t about gore or emotional manipulation, but rather about the delicious allure of being drawn into stories that quietly challenge our sense of the natural world.
* The “why” of the piece – the reason Zettelmaier wants to take us on this personal journey (that by his own admission fell short at times, with “ghost towns” that sometimes turned out to be little more than economically depressed towns or minor tourist destinations) – becomes clear as hints of Zettelmaier’s own experience with the supernatural are dropped like breadcrumbs along the way. Without revealing too much, I’ll just say that Joe’s tale works well as the show’s anchor, and the tension and payoff work.
Maybe too well. I mean, I know it’s getting close to Halloween and all, but a girl’s gotta sleep, people …