“I know this movie,” remarks the bloodied-up Henry (the ever-fascinating Paul Sparks) to his frantic wife Max (Claire Karpen, more-than-ably filling in for an ailing Tatiana Maslany) as they enter the somewhat creepy mountain cabin that provides the setting for Levi Holloway’s dark yet dull play “Grey House,” now at the Lyceum Theatre.
Henry and Max ended up there after she hit a deer during a massive snowstorm, wrecking their car. And since he has a broken ankle, the phone in the cabin doesn’t work, and the snow won’t stop. Grey House becomes their temporary home. Or is it their last one?
Even back in 1977, when this work takes place (for questionable reasons), the use of a remote cabin in the woods (here, brilliantly designed and outfitted by Scott Pask) was already a bit of a trope for horror movies. So, when Max asks Henry what happens next and he replies, “we don’t make it,” it seems prophetic. On the other hand, one wonders if Holloway is planning to make us sit through a 100-minute play just to see the inevitable play out.
Just as I won’t give away the ending, I won’t “spoil” much of what happens during this time. Unlike Henry when he utters that line, we already know that the house is not uninhabited. Its residents include the bedraggled Raleigh (the always watchable Laurie Metcalf, specializing once again in bitterness, sarcasm and resoluteness) and five “children,” who may or may not be her biological offspring, and who live up to Raleigh’s description of them as “willful creatures.”
There’s the self-described “bitchy” Marlow (Sophia-Anne Caruso, well-cast), the deaf Bernie (a lovely Millicent Simmonds), the seemingly kindly A1656 (Alyssa Emily Marvel) and the slightly spooky Squirrel (Colby Kipnes). They’re all dressed in whitish slips, while the youngest child, a ginger-haired boy (Eamon Patrick O’Connell) is clad in normal pajamas. (The costumes are by Rudy Manco, making his Broadway debut).Is their attire a clue of some sort about who or what they are?
Then again, what about the basement door that opens and closes without warning? And what do we make of the presence of the Ancient (Cynde Crone), a gray-haired woman who appears without warning and is seemingly only seen by Henry? (The excellent lighting is by Natasha Katz and the equally fine sound design is by Tom Gibbons.)
What about them indeed? As always, director Joe Mantello has gotten uniformly superb performances from everyone on stage; the cast gets a gold star for their commitment to this uneven material. On the downside, Mantello could pick up the pacing a little, the play often seems to be limping (just like Henry) to its conclusion as we impatiently wait for all to be revealed.
And here’s the biggest rub: when everything is “explained,” you might still be unsure of what you just saw. That’s sadly not by design, but because Holloway’s plot ultimately turns out to be a little too complicated for its own good. Moreover, Holloway pays too much attention to the paranormal and not enough to the play’s psychological underpinnings; only if you have a lot of time to reflect on what you’ve seen can you really understand what the work is ultimately about.
For the performances alone, some theatergoers will find “Grey House” a nice place to visit. No one, however, would ever want to live there. Or would they?
By Brian Scott Lipton
Laurie Metcalf, Tatiana Maslany*, Paul Sparks, Sophia Anne Caruso, Millicent Simmonds, Cyndi Coyne, Colby Kipnes, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Eamon Patrick O’Connell
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New York, NY 10036