The 40th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays continues with the premiere of “Wondrous Strange,” a group effort from playwrights Martyna Majok, Meg Miroshnik, Jiehae Park and Jen Silverman. Director Marti Lyons and associate director John Rooney led this year’s Acting Apprentice Company through a night filled with so much fun, I’d be tempted to call it “entertainment” if there weren’t some wonderful hidden depths being plumbed by the material and its structure.
On its surface, “Wondrous Strange” is a sweet, creepy and hilarious horror-comedy-romance. Composed of eight sections, two from each playwright, they all contain some connection to the idea of ghosts or the macabre — some loosely, others quite literally. Certain segments could stand alone nicely as 10-minute plays, while others really only work in the context of the evening-length work, which clocked in at a speedy 70 minutes.
Part of what makes the evening so effective is that we never knew what we were watching; would it melt our hearts or grab them and squeeze them in terror? It almost seems unfair to comment on the individual pieces and their particular genre, other than to say, “Go see this.”
So, go see this. If you’re hoping to go in spoiler-free, consider this your warning.
No doubt every audience member walked away with favorites, but for my taste, the big winners of the evening were Miroshnik’s incredibly creepy “Bug,” Park’s lonesome and sweet “Something Like,” and Silverman’s “The Bonnets” and “Ghost Bros.”
“Ghost Bros” showed the beginning of an unlikely romance between two “Ghost Hunter”-style reality TV stars. The moments of sweetness were belied by the brocabulary being used by the two, whose near constant exclamations of “bro!” never failed to elicit guffaws. This is clearly the work of the same Silverman who charmed Humana audiences with last year’s funny and moving “The Roommate.”
“Something Like” showed us a woman grieving a lost lover and using a figment of her lover left behind via computer to cope with her loss. The eerie echo of a lost friend should be familiar to anyone who has watched the ongoing life of a Facebook page of someone recently deceased. This piece in particular really nailed the possibility of the evening’s dueling nature.
I was pretty convinced right up until the last moment that I was watching something scary, but instead of a chilling final reveal (a tactic used effectively in other segments), Park went sweet. The build-up of adrenaline caused by the tension of waiting for something scary exploded into love, loss and hope instead. It was an incredibly cathartic ending.
“Bug” went the other way, starting with sex jokes about ghosts that I suspected would morph into a love story, and instead presented pyscho-sexual drama about shame, guilt and childhood’s ability to be an innocent force of destruction.
The Apprentice Company as whole performed admirably, with stand-out performances from Alejandro Hernandez and Jayson Speters in “Ghost Bros”; Tracey Green, Adenike Thomas and Esaú Mora in “Something Like”; and Amelia Windom and Yaron Lotan in “Bug.”
It’s always a pleasure to see the clockwork precision of scene changes facilitated by the Apprentice Company, but in a show designed to showcase them beyond their roles as the grunts of the theater world, it’s particularly wonderful. In this instance, scene changes and costume choices often refer back to something we’ve already seen, or foreshadow something coming down the line, which works particularly well given the loose connectivity of the scenes and subject.
The “Wondrous Strange” premiere Friday night was bursting with an audience made almost completely of college-age theater majors. The air was jovial and probably not entirely sober. With college kids watching a group of performers only recently graduated from college themselves, the evening’s electric air landed halfway between a pep rally and a screening of “Rocky Horror.” I’m certain the Apprentice Company will be more than able to charm and chill subsequent audiences, but I can’t help but feel sorry for audiences who won’t get to see it in a such an environment.
“Wondrous Strange” continues through April 8. For tickets and times, check the Actors Theatre’s website.