Theater Review by Edward Medina
Let’s play a ghoulish little game. Let’s create a fast paced comedy thriller that puts four characters in a spooky setting. Let’s play up who’s dead versus not dead, who’s a ghost versus a corporeal being. Perhaps someone is a special evil spirit of some kind or they are just plain possessed. Let’s also have a haunted house with its own agenda that may or may not involve a dead uncle, a prerequisite stay of some length for someone to inherit, and then have it set a delicious trap for all those ensconced within to fall into. This is exactly what you have in the very funny and highly entertaining Ghosts and Gaslighting, playing at Theatre Row as part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival.
The exact plot here is not to be given away because what fun would there be in that. Suffice it to say that you’ll never really know what’s going on, you’ll never really know who’s dead and who’s not dead, and when it’s all said and done you’re going to be just fine with that. Ghost and Gaslighting has got that play that went wrong sensibility but everything is just as it should be in what amounts to be an eccentrically bizarre and effervescently charming Scooby Doo and the gang mystery.
This is playwright Erin Moughon’s third time at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival and it’s easy to see why they keep inviting her back. The writing here is clever and razor sharp. She sets us up and delivers the gags in a quick Neil Simon with a scythe rapid fire succession that never once lets up. She slices up sexism, gender issues, mansplaining, societal angst, and Nick at Nite obsessions with spot on millennial repartee that lets her cast of characters shine and shine they do.
The ensemble cast is a tight group that obviously works hard and plays equally hard. It’s no easy task to deliver the rapid-fire succession of banter and plot without missing a beat. Mandy Murphy is wickedly wacky in her role as malevolent ringmaster, Chase Naylor is the perfect comedy foil for all the barbs thrown at him, Kirsten Hopkins is reminiscent of a young Carol Burnett, and Sarah Teed is joyously sneaky in all the guises she dons. These are smart strong performers with exceptional physical and comedic timing. They’re having a blast and that fun is infectious.
Director David Adam Gill is also smart in presenting Ghosts and Gaslighting with all its broad face farcical flair intact and keeping the action moving with equally quick like a fox staging. Ghosts and Gaslighting also manages to deliver some genuine frights in the midst of all the mayhem thanks to a very capable design crew working with a minimalist palette. Lighting designer Jenn Burkhardt, sound designer Chett Miller, projection designer Chelsie McPhilimy, along with prop and costume support by Wendy Cohen, all work together seamlessly to create just the right moods and trickery to pull everything off. And in a rare backstage nod, stage manager Maddy Cohen’s contribution should be mentioned because her hands must be decidedly full with all the ensuing antics.
Now here’s the thing, at the top of the play during the usual don’t forget to turn your cell phone off blah blah blah falderal, this time given to us in haunted mansion voiced spookiness, we’re told that the play is sixty minutes in length. At this particular performance it was not. It clocked in at a solid forty-five minutes. Which means they either need to slow down a tad or they’ve got an extra fifteen minutes to plump up the ending, which could use a little bit of help considering how well the rest of the text worked. This is a minor quibble, but it should be noted for what will surely be future incarnations of this fabulously fun ride.
Photos: Emily Hewitt