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Grey House

A group of people standing on a staircase

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Sophia Anne Caruso, Alyssa Emily Marvin, Millicent Simmonds (Photo: MurphyMade, 2023)



Grey House


Hokum and Horror mix uneasily in this eerie play


By David Schultz


Playwright Levi Holloway has a lot to unpack in this dense, psychological horror-infused tale. As directed by Joe Mantello, the familiar supernatural tropes are laid out in the outset. The audience has seen this set-up in countless films and the occasional play, with wildly divergent outcomes.


A young couple has been driving through an intense snowstorm. They hit a deer, swerve off the road, hit a tree; their car is damaged, they walk and find a cabin in the woods, knock and enter what seems an empty creepy abode and hope to get some medical assistance. The home of course is cursed, and the soon to be revealed inhabitants will forever change the course of their lives.  


The attention to detail in this cabin is impeccably designed by Scott Pask. The living quarters are jam packed with a dense amount of clutter, as well as a weird sense of unearthly timelessness, the cabin has its own inner logic and becomes as time wears on, a character in the play. The combination of unsettling set design mixed with sharply honed lighting effects by Natasha Katz energizes the entire proceedings with a sense of doom-laden portents.


Henry (Paul Sparks) with his broken ankle, bleeding and limping, hobbles into the house with wife Max (Tatiana Maslany). Henry states “I’ve seen this movie”, then after a pregnant pause…” We don’t make it.” A knowing ripple of laughter emanates from the audience. There are four haunted young girls that live in this home. They would fit in perfectly in one of Edward Gorey’s illustrated books, dressed in alternate timeframe diaphanous nightgowns. The children form an unholy quartet of sisters, Marlow (Sophia Anne Caruso), Bernie (Millicent Simmonds), Squirrel (Colby Kipnes), The oddly named A1656 (Alyssa Emily Marvin), and a wordless, red-haired tyke here named The Boy (Eamon Patrick O’Connell.


A group of people in a cabin

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The cast of Grey House (Photo: MurphyMade)


All of these youngsters have a psychic bond and frequently speak in unison when they are not chanting or singing ancient ditties. The surrogate mother of this brood, Raleigh, (Laurie Metcalf) is the apparent caregiver, but the interplay and power control dynamics of the household is called into question. Much of the proceedings are shrouded in vague half spoken dialogue that tilts the sense of unease.


Early on the girls are reverently knitting a reddish quilt that seems to be made of organs and flesh. (Don’t Ask.) There is also a refrigerator that is packed with clear mason jars filled with a viscous thick liquid, that one of the girls proudly states contains “The Nectar of Dead Men”.


As the young couple stays in the house, Henry attempts to heal his broken foot with an assist by Raleigh. He is insatiably drawn to the elixir and raids the refrigerator for the delectable liquid -- shades of Stephen King’s Misery duly noted. The undercurrent of the mysteries of the eerie household and this tightknit brood are parsed out in ever ending enigmatic ways.


The play takes place in 1977, which makes the thought of cell phone accessibility rather moot. With a landline telephone on view, the cut cords reveal the insidious nature of what lies in store for this bewildered couple. The girls attempt to play a game of Truth or Dare, as mother Raleigh heads down to the basement, her screams and howling from below are an added level of the unnerving sense of unease. (Don’t Ask.)


Another mysterious grotesque wraith, The Ancient (Cyndi Coyne) hovers about at times, tempting Henry to drink copious amounts of that demonic liquid. (Don’t Ask.) I never discerned who she was. The play moves with a stealthy glee with its own inner logic. Much is left to the audience figuring out what the the hell is happening on stage. There is an enigmatic sense of putting all the pieces together to acknowledge what the playwright has up his sleeve.


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Millicent Simmonds, Laurie Metcalf (Photo: MurphyMade)


In its final 20 minutes, the play give a sly nod to what has been happening all along right in front of our eyes. (No spoilers.) Playwright Holloway does some heavy lifting as his specious denouement leaves a decidedly bitter aftertaste. The anticipation of what mysteries will be revealed are also strangely muted.


Much of the success of the tone and mood of the evening are aided immeasurably by Ms. Katz’s brilliant lighting effects with shriek inducing blackouts. The jump scares did make some in the audience rise out of their seats. (I didn’t.) Sound designer Tom Gibbons gives the production a brilliant aural landscape of creaks, groans, and surreal sounds of mechanical saw noises that emanate from that unseen basement. Special shout-out to musical supervisor Or Matias. All conspire to add impeccable soundscapes to what amounts to a rather tepid evening.


But days later when and if time allows, and one attempts to reconstruct the intricate convolutions of plot, the tale does work on its own inner demented logic. What is this Grey House All about…. Really? Don’t Ask!


 Playing at The Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street. Running Time 1 hour 40 minutes.

Through September 3rd.