Northwest Actors Studio
Through Oct 30.
The Haint is a rarity in fringe theater: Subtle, substantial, and unpretentious, it's just a good story told by a great performer. Despite a few technical glitches, creator Troy Mink breezes through the brisk production (at one hour, it's just a little too short) with equal parts Southern snark and grace, animating a whole town's worth of flawlessly nuanced loonies.
The fictional aftermath of a real murder/suicide, The Haint concerns Mary, an otherwise upstanding denizen of Midway, TN, who decides, publicly and matter-of-factly, to kill herself and her lover: "I think I'll shoot him twice in the heart and myself four times in the stomach." And indeed she does. Not long after, Mary's ghost shows up (maybe), sending Midway's townsfolk into fits of terror, glee, and just a tiny bit of grief. Then comes "Mary's Haunted House," a tourist attraction featuring spooky fake tombstones, a photo op (for the kids), and absolutely no acknowledgment of any real-life tragedy. As Midway's mayor explains, they touched up the original bloodstain "just a little bit."
The Haint, which has been remounted periodically since its premiere in 1996, isn't a ghost story—not really. And it isn't a comedy, either, though it is very funny. It's really about the selfishness of the living—how the suffering of others is just another outlet for attention, for financial gain, for gossip. Is Mary a friendly ghost? A poltergeist? Does she exist at all? No one really cares. To most residents of Midway—the ghost-busting sheriff, the fussy-hen neighbor, the sensitive supernaturalist—she's just an opportunity, an empty vessel. In the midst of this self-absorbed circus, you'll almost miss the moment when delicate Sister Opal Avery says quietly, "She was my best friend." LINDY WEST
Ghost Light Theatricals at Freehold's East Hall Theatre
Through Oct 29.
The Rover is a quintessential Restoration comedy—a wittily rambunctious, oversexed fantasia populated by rakes and wannabes, swooning prostitutes and whorish convent girls. When played straight, Aphra Behn's characters tend to shock theatergoers who aren't familiar with the period. (Nobody's born knowing lady playwrights of the 17th century could be so shameless.) In Ghost Light's production, director Beth Raas has taken the opposite tack. The swordfights, featuring such weapons as croquet mallets and badminton racquets, are nimble but ludicrous; the prostitute's a drag queen; and Willmore, the titular horndog, humps everything he sees. It ain't subtle, but it's very funny.
Set during Carnivale in Naples at the time of the English Protectorate, The Rover is about a pack of randy Brits and their popish prey—namely Florinda (Si Issler, the only miscast actor), a sought-after lady of quality, and her kid sister Hellena (Erika Goodwin), who's bound for the nunnery but first wants to sample the pleasures of the flesh. The men include Patrick Allcorn, perfectly nasal as the sweaty fop Ned Blunt, and Brandon Hoskins, who performs Willmore's requisite pelvic thrusts with abandon.
In between the near-rapes and drag tantrums, the audience is treated to Behn's clever turns of phrase and cute skits that keep you entertained during scene changes. The set, by Anne Marie Caldwell, is obviously inexpensive, but sports some nice touches, including an archly artificial garden: a couple of lime-colored feather boas draped over signposts. The Rover is a delight, and should be required viewing for anyone planning to take in the very meta Amy Freed premiere, Restoration Comedy, at the Rep in December. ANNIE WAGNER
H. P. Lovecraft: Arkham
Open Circle Theater
Through Nov 12.
I thought Arkham was swell, and indeed this review will probably be a positive one. (It's true!) But it's peculiar how often the first 10 minutes (or so) of any show can suck the dick that is donkey (so to speak) and then bam! It gets tons better. Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised: I had the screwdriver poised and ready to plunge into my eyeball when I suddenly succumbed to the dark and campy whimsy (yes, I said whimsy) of this very smart and scary and funny little triad of H. P. Lovecraft adaptations. Soon eyeballs were exploding (not mine—onstage) and pretty girls were screaming, evil fish people were having group sex (with the screaming pretty girls, mostly), fog machines were being pushed to the utter limits of their fogginess, and one or two unlucky folks suddenly liquefied. So suck up the sucky first 10 minutes: It gets good. I swear.
Nothing evokes Halloweenishness like some good H. P. Lovecraft. Since there is no such thing as good H. P. Lovecraft, we must rely upon clever adaptations. Open Circle Theater traditionally offers a handful of these around this time every year, and this year's offering, Arkham, is smartly directed by Ron Sandhal. Arkham comprises three lightly reworked and creatively staged Lovecraft classics entitled "The Shunned House," "Cool Air," and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Two of these were very entertaining. There were one or two rusty links in the ensemble chain (and they should weep from the stink of their clunky, stale performances!), but Open Circle has its spooky technicals down cold—the set and lights and special effects are extra-specially spooky. Horror fans shouldn't miss it, and non–horror fans probably shouldn't, either. It's almost Halloween, for Christ's sake! ADRIAN RYAN