In a thriller at the Ahmanson Theatre, the modern challenges of bringing up babies while working through lingering narcissism supersede the scares of red lighting and sudden screams.
By John Lavitt
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11-09-2022
In the 21st century, has reality become scarier than the supernatural? From fake news to soaring inflation, the fears faced by upwardly mobile Yuppies seem to overcome the threat of ghosts lurking in a renovated home. Written by Danny Robbins and directed by Matthew Dunster, the Center Theatre Group’s production of 2:22 A GHOST STORY is more disturbing than scary. What proves to be troubling is how the intelligence and talents of the characters fail to overcome their neurotic tendencies and extreme self-involvement. As the characters argue back and forth about whether ghosts are real, they fail to listen to each other. Indeed, what is most lacking in the storyline is a sense of actual empathy.
Although sounds of screaming and blasts of red lighting framing the stage are used from the beginning to shake the audience’s core, these special effects have little or no impact. The campy shrieking and the crimson bursts become nothing more than a sign of a scene transition. Instead, what affects us is the mirror that the characters offer to the shallowness of modernity. In their world of a gentrified Boston, ghosts could directly result from Yuppie renovations as the family history of places is erased with stylish Kitchen islands and sliding glass doors.
The story concerns a new mom and her firm belief that her new house is haunted. Jenny (Constance Wu) desperately wants her scientifically-minded husband, Sam (Finn Wittrock), to believe that what she has been experiencing while he has been away on a business trip is real. Every night at 2:22, she hears someone walking around the baby’s room, and listening to the baby monitor is a central ongoing plot point.
When Sam’s college friend, Lauren (Anna Camp), and her new blue-collar boyfriend, Ben (Adam Rothenberg), come for dinner, Jenny convinces them to stay over until the appointed time. Although it is still early in the evening, they agree because they both claim to be believers in supernatural happenings. Thus, a good part of the rest of the play is a three-against-one argument where everyone else tries to convince Sam that ghosts exist. A lover of rationality above all else, Sam refuses to heed anything they say.
From an acting perspective, the gem of the play is Anna Camp as Lauren, a heavily drinking psychiatrist haunted by past and present failures. As her contractor boyfriend, Adam Rothenberg offers a breath of fresh air from the other characters, holding on to his blue-collar roots and deep-set beliefs. Together, the two supporting characters are the most believable. They take a strange ride that echoes many modern horror movies, particularly the work of M. Night Shyamalan. You understand what they are experiencing, and you wish them well.
Given the dimensions of Ahmanson’s stage, the renovated house feels more than a little overwhelming. After all, who has ceilings that are forty feet high and living rooms the size of a volleyball court? As a result, the intimacy needed for horror – the claustrophobia and the sense that there is no escape – is never engendered. The characters drown in the wide-open spaces.
There are so many plot points that cannot be given away in a review without spoiling the various surprises. Although clever and surprising, these surprises are not as effective as desired. Ultimately, the stylish renovations do not match the playwright’s ambitions. As Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street proved in the theatres, if we do not care about the characters, then the scares and thrills better be extreme to keep us coming back for more.
Photos by Craig Schwartz Photography