For fans of horror onstage, there are more than jump scares to be found in Jackalope Theatre's The Light Fantastic. ( See the eview on page 18. ) The production, penned by in-demand playwright Ike Holter, digs deep into the humanity hiding behind what lurks in the shadows, and asks the audience questions about identity and community.
The play involves Grace ( Paloma Nozicka ), who has returned to her small Indiana hometown in order to take care of her mother, Fiona ( Janice O'Neill ). She's not home long before being faced with a supernatural crisis that threatens her entire existence. Grace encounters the local law enforcement in the midst of her troubles, and Officer Harriet ( Brianna Buckley ) plays a crucial part in dealing with both natural and supernatural forces.
The homecoming scenario is part of what drew director Gus Menary to the script.
"I'm a millennial," Menary said. "For my generation, we're at this point where we have kids and jobs and we are starting to have to take care of our parents. This motivates a certain amount of self-reflection, he argues, and this thought process lies at the heart of Grace's struggle with larger forces. "There is this idea of, 'Can I be a good person now?' Can you fake it till you make it?'"
While investigating these thematic inquiries, The Light Fantastic pulls from horror classics of the 1960s, '70s and '80s, such as 1982's Poltergeist and 1967's Rosemary's Baby. Menary said the production team also drew inspiration from the more recent The Pretty Thing That Lives In the House in order to create a sense of dread throughout the performance, rather than relying solely on jump scares. Menary's emphasis for the show is on creating a thousand tiny cuts in the audience's psyche.
Since The Light Fantastic is a world premiere, new pages were being delivered to the production team on a regular basis. Menary asked designers to employ a wide palette of disquiet in their work. Scenic designer Sotirios Livaditis "gave us a canvas to paint on," Menary said, while sound and projection designer Steve LaBedz, lighting designer Slick Jorgenson, and "ghost wrangler" Brandon Moorehead experimented with new terrors using their respective crafts.
Brianna Buckley plays Harriet, a queer woman of color in a small town. Playing the truth of that situation, chills included, brings the audience deeper into the reality of the play.
Holter is known for giving characters powerful monologues about their place in the world, and Buckley delivers such a speech. She credits Holter with developing dialogue full of beats that help tell Harriet's story, and parallel frustrations people struggle with in real life.
"I think it's also [about] being a woman of color living in a world that's not always friendly, not always kind, and not always hearing your voice,' Buckley said. Buckley added that she finds that portion of the script deeply relevant to today, and said she is honored to hear those words listened to in performance.
The Light Fantastic was written to reflect the uncertainty the current time, without making bald-faced political statements about society. Holter's work often deals with ongoing events without explicitly telling an audience how to feel about a particular issue. Often, characters or communities transform in his plays, and Holter's fleshed-out examination of flawed, vulnerable people creates what Menary terms "the deep magic of theater."
Menary said he believes that big choices in The Light Fantastic change the characters, and that witnessing those moments allows the audience to ask whether their own choiceswhy we do what we domatters.
Of course, there is also comfort to be found in a horror story onstage. The real world confronts theatergoers with frightening circumstances every day. There's something incredibly relaxing about being scared [in a show], Menary said, in part because the audience gets to be terrified as a community. "How much better is that," he asked, "than being scared in real life?"
Jackalope Theatre's The Light Fantastic, by Ike Holter, continues through Wed., June 13, at the the Broadway Armory Park, 5917 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20-$30; visit www.jackalopetheatre.org/.