There are many different ways to scare people: a clap of thunder when you least expect it, flashing strobe lights that disorient your vision, or a single flickering bulb in a dimly lit room threatening to plunge you into darkness. The Exchange’s fright fest of short plays titled, The Scariest, utilizes all of these elements to make you jump and squirm uncomfortably in your seat. Bare bulbs hang from the ceiling; plastic drapings serve as walls and at the end of the long wooden stage stands an ominous red door.
Unfortunately, the goose bumps end here. For a series of pieces titled The Scariest, the stories themselves are not really scary. They are, however, sinister, creepy and not for the faint of heart.
In Gary Sunshine’s The Names of Foods, a man describes burning his infant daughter to death. Dan Dietz’s Lobster Boy asks us to imagine the horror of a young boy as he realizes that he has killed the one person in his life he loved the most. In Kristin Newbom’s Revelations, two children’s jackets are pulled from a box, both of them covered with blood and bullet holes.
These stories and images are certainly dark and horrific, but they tap more into the raw human suffering you hear on the news than the gleefully spine-tingling stories you tell around a campfire.
The idea to produce The Scariest came about when The Exchange commissioned several young playwrights to write short horror stories inspired by the work of classic writers Hans Christian Anderson, WW Jacobs, Nathanial Hawthorne and the Book Of Revelation. But you do not need to know these writers’ works to enjoy or understand the adaptations depicted here. In fact, you are better off not reading the originals since The Exchange’s writers put their own unique spins on the stories.
Nathanial Hawthorne’s Rappaccini’s Daughter, rewritten by Laura Schellhardt as The Apothecary’s Daughter, feels the most in line with the evening of creeps and chills that the title promises to serve. It has just the right mix of spine-tingling terror and campfire humor. The story revolves around a lonely apothecary’s daughter (Mandy Siegfried) whose constant exposure to poisonous plants has turned her own skin so toxic that she can kill a fly by blowing on it.
Another fun piece is Liz Duffy Adams' The Uses Of Fear, a sensory piece that toys with your mind. A disembodied voice delivers the entire monologue in the dark, describing a series of scenarios designed to get your paranoia flowing.
The final piece, Revelations, has a lackluster beginning - a writer (Siegfried) is writing about not being able to write - but later picks up as different characters start jumping into her body to help her out. The characters quickly take over, forcing the writer to pull a disturbing story out of the repressed section of her mind. Finally, a “Cleaner” (Joaquin Torres) has to be called in to get all the characters out, an act that leaves the writer feeling renewed and refreshed.
The Cleaner has a surprisingly comical entrance that is worth withholding for the visual delight it brings. A warm glow fills the room as he unites the characters and audience in song, giving everyone the first uplifting moment they have had all night. It feels as if this man is not only here for the characters, but for the viewer as well. After this evening of macabre works and distressing images you need someone to clear out the shadows and bring in a much needed ray of light.