NY Theater Review By Eric J. Grimm
Ensemble: William DeMeritt, Laura Gragtmans, Elia Monte-Brown, Jackson Moran, and Michael McQuilken.
OldSoundRoom, a new theater company composed of former and current students of the Yale School of Drama, has mounted an energetic and appropriately spooky show for Halloween: an adaptation of select short stories from fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. The troupe is game for translating Gaiman’s macabre atmosphere to the stage and are mostly successful in creating a balance between madcap comedy and gross-out horror.
The ensemble collaborated in stringing together five of Gaiman’s stories that represent his youthful brand of horror. In the beginning, we are introduced to an international group of spirits who represent the months of the year. These ancient souls must spin tales in order to have control over the events of their month. Some of the more vengeful spirits have sinister plans. The tales of cannibals, lovestruck organ donors, gothic novelists, adventurous eaters, and runaway children are well-chosen, with the humor building to a fever pitch before the final tale, a much more somber one that sends the audience off with a sense of unease.
The ensemble takes on multiple characters and it is both admirable and lamentable that they have chosen to take on varied dialects. The vocal work is often too punchy and cartoonish with leprechaun-sounding Irishmen and an unintelligible French accent. That said, highest praise is due to the strongest member of the group, Laura Gragtmans, who does incredible work with her voice throughout. Gragtmans narrates the most confusing and forgettable story of the bunch, but gives such a precise, larger-than-life quality to her high-strung British narrator, that it ended up being the high point of the show. A telling section had the actress interacting with a crow puppet operated by two ensemble members. The coordination of the puppet’s movements was impressive, but Gragtman’s wild gesticulation and reactions were much more watchable.
Led by director Mike McQuilken, the OldSoundRoom ensemble has presented a promising work that is, I hope, an indication that we can look forward to many more imaginative works from them. Going forward, it would be nice to see less variation in their dialects; creating sound effects and playing around with pitch and timbre would be a better use of their vocal talents. Tuning up in this area will serve them well as they already have the ambition and energy to be a great company.
October in the Chair and Other Fragile Things is playing at The American Theatre of Actors (314 W. 54th St.) through November 2nd. For tickets, visit https://www.artful.ly/oldsoundroom/store/events.
Photos: Michael McQuilken