by: Rudy Gerson
If you’re looking for a haunted house to celebrate the Halloween season, but prefer to let the scary come to you, look no further than Psycho Clan’s series of horror plays rotating at the Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente (107 Suffolk St.) in the Lower East Side.
The premiere program of the month long festival is Psycho Clan’s newest work — Smile, a brisk one-act that redefines tropes of the horror genre. Following a photographer who uses his camera as an excuse to execute his perverse imaginings, Smile interweaves multiple storylines as the killer’s motive to photograph victims at their moment of capture escalates to a dramatic conclusion.
Psycho Clan theater director and playwright Timothy Haskell crafts a play that feels more like a series of vignettes than a robust linear plot as actors play across the fourth wall, interacting with the audience just as in a more conventional haunted house.
For a play that runs under an hour and asks $25 a ticket, underdeveloped characters may leave some theatergoers looking down at their watch. However, if you come into the show and wish to get scared into bits, Smile soars above the call of duty. A haunting violin solo, gruesomely realistic props, and the innocent stalked, then attacked, make the play feel like a live-action horror movie, but instead of the action happening only to the front of you, the horror surrounds you on all sides.
While the play is short on dialogue, it’s heavy on the resourceful use of sound and light to transform the minimalist set into a dynamic playing space. Eerie high notes and haunting bass fill the theater and promise to add chills to the mysterious dark corners and stairwells of the set (Sound design by Matt Szwed).
Within the realm of feeling, Smile manufactures moments of real terror — a killer clown glides in the dark, a deranged hermit reveals his darkest self, a young girl cries out in the night. Director Haskell takes risks, and it is worth admiring his attempt to break convention. The text, however, could use another round of dramaturgical, as I left the theater wanting to know more about the characters whom I felt had only just been introduced.
Attempts at audience interaction had more bark than actual bite, and I noticed myself being distracted by efforts to include audience members on stage, which were unanimously met with chagrin. I would have enjoyed the audience participation had it felt genuinely fearful, not tongue-in-cheek.
For a seasonal-attraction, the month-long festival “Nightmare: Horror Show – New York’s Most Terrifying Theater Festival” gets a thumbs up. 7 short plays rotate nightly, and if the other productions boast similarly courageous artistic choices then, I’m sure, they will satisfy your need for holiday spook. Head over to www.NightmareNewYork.com for the full schedule of shows and reserve your tickets today!