Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Told over three generations, Ellsworth sets the piece mainly in a haunted English summer cottage where the inhabitants become possessed if they read the second act of the bound play "The King in Yellow," a copy of which just happens to always be readily available in the house. Transformed into evil beings by what they read, The Haunted includes plenty of eerie moments, a never-ending stream of ghosts, and macabre situations that all combine to form a very strange and atmospheric piece. It has a few scares and is chilling and very spooky.
While Ellsworth uses a couple of Chamber's characters, most of the piece is original, with Ellsworth creating several generations of characters who are relatives to the ones in the original story. The plot is fairly well paced with realistic dialogue and also includes several well written moments that are eerie and disturbing. The positive end result is commendable considering that this is Ellsworth's first attempt at writing a play. However, with dozens of characters, a couple of whom are confusing as to exactly what their relationship to the plot is, and with several scenes in the first act that aren't clearly flashbacks or not, a few slight revisions and a small amount of editing and clarification would make the overall effect even better. Still, it is a solid first play.
Ellsworth also directs and achieves believable and haunting performances from most of his cast, though a few of the young cast members should project more in order to be heard better. As Rachel, the daughter of the author of "The King in Yellow" play who serves as a ghostly narrator, Laurynn Allen is superb, not only in her even-measured and spooky line delivery but in the way she floats across the entire theatre, just like a ghost. It is a haunting performance. Three other actors do quite well in portraying characters who have become changed by reading the play within the play. Noah Delgado effectively plays both sides of a loving father who ends up turning on his entire family, with ghastly results, and Danny Blankemeier is deliciously evil as a character who attempts to control events and people around him in his belief that he will become something greater and even more evil. Rachel Lundgreen is incredibly chilling as another character influenced by the play, a wife who reads the manuscript and becomes a conduit for the Yellow King.
Ellsworth's direction creates plenty of spooky scenes, with superb, evocative, and dim lighting from Tom Fitzwater that adds considerably to the effect. When combined with Taylor Hudson's excellent sound design the end result is reminiscent of a horror film come to life. Several effective key directorial touches include a fantasy party scene that evolves splendidly into an especially horrifying moment and an ending where only flashlights are used to illuminate the cast, with the action for the finale set all around the auditorium. Just a little more light would help specify exactly who is on stage at a few key moments during that sequence. Ellsworth also created the set which makes good use of the entire space. In a cut-out alcove on stage right he includes an excellent hallway of doors and another playing area stage left, both of which are where many of the scary moments are set. However, the use of numerous, large furniture pieces cramps the main stage at times, delays the scene changes, and is noisy, which detracts from a few of the scenes that happen during the set changes. The result is some dialogue is missed. Julie Clement's costumes are perfectly gothic in nature and Cheri Lundgreen's extremely creepy makeup is the icing on this cake of demonic horrors.
While there may be a few plot points and characters that could be clarified, Actor's Youth Theatre's production of The Haunted makes for a fun Halloween theatrical outing, full of spooky elements and chilling moments, and illustrates a good first play by director Marcus Ellsworth.
The Actor's Youth Theatre production of The Haunted runs through October 31st, 2015, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information for this and upcoming productions can be found at www.actorsyouththeatre.org or by calling 480-907-7050.
Written and Directed by Marcus Ellsworth Set and Prop Designer: Marcus Ellsworth