(Cover Photo: Noah Dawson and Brittany Messuri in "Chasing the Ghost". Courtesy of Brittany Messuri Photography)
A Haunting Nightmare Before Christmas with Forge's "Chasing the Ghost"
By Kevin T. Baldwin
FITCHBURG: “Chasing the Ghost” a new play by Lauren Rogers. Presented by the Forge Theater Lab. Performances at Wallace Theater for Performing Arts, McKay Building at Fitchburg State University, 67 Rindge Road, Fitchburg, MA. Performances: Dec. 13, and 14 at 8:00pm; Dec. 8 at 2:00pm. Ticket prices: $15 General / $5 Students & Seniors (60+) Dec. 12 at 6:30pm (Pay What You Can).0
Written by Ashley Lauren Rogers. Directed by Samantha deManbey
Cast Includes: Noah Dawson, Brittany Messuri, Amy DeMar-Dubois, Leeann Monat, Austin Swallow, Cheyenne Winley, Charles Amaral.
Forge Theater Lab presents “Chasing the Ghost” for a December staging and, with its supernatural elements, the one act play by Ashley Lauren Rogers seems as if it would be more fitting for a group seeking to do a Halloween-themed production or as a Comic Con featured event.
The set was well organized, although fairly sparse, with just enough items on stage to depict the surroundings indicated within the plot.
There was an eerie makeshift “shrine” over on stage right and, set on top, a video screen displaying clips of an old YouTube show with a character known as the “Enraged Gamer” which actually is the show’s ‘host’ named Kurt (Noah Dawson).
During these clips, it becomes evident of the immaturity of Kurt (at the time the videos were shot) as he mercilessly critiqued the video games popular back then, usually indicating that if anyone disagreed with his negative assessments, they should “go and kill” themselves.
At the peak of his popularity, Kurt would call out a young woman, Cathy (Cheyenne Winley), of falsely accusing his video producer of rape, using his show to publicly humiliate her.
Subsequently, a horrible tragedy occurred which would later “haunt” Kurt.
Flash forward years later, Kurt is now married to struggling ‘vampire romance’ author Patty (Brittany Messuri). Their apartment is situated center stage, simply depicted by a desk with a laptop on it and a window frame located next to a bed.
As the couple lay sleeping, Kurt experiences “somebody” tickling his feet. But no one is actually “seen” by the couple as the room is dark, so when they attempt to report the incident to a local Policeman (Charles Amaral), the cop finds the story a bit incredulous. However, the cop also recognizes Kurt and begins to “geek out” nostalgically before the traumatized couple.
A table with two microphones stage left is set for an online podcast that takes place throughout the show. The host and co-host of the show (Samantha deManby, who also directed, and Leann Monat) alternate scenes with Kurt and Patty as their dilemma unfolds.
During these moments, the duo interview various “experts” (played by Amaral, Austin Swallow) in supernatural phenomena, with a recurring theme specific to Kurt’s case, which is of “shadow people” – ghosts who target certain individuals (in this case, Kurt).
Director deManbey balanced as best as possible the ghostly ingredients. However, here, the bulk of the material fell flat, landing somewhere in chasm where it did not know if it was a comedy or a drama.
That being said, where there was balance was in the podcast segments. These were extremely lighthearted which proved a nice contrast to the more dramatic situation surrounding the deteriorating mental and marital state of Kurt and Patty.
Given Kurt’s desperate attempt to uncover the “source” of his haunting, it was when humor was attempted to be injected in the Kurt and Patty scenes that the script fell short.
In addition, while entertaining, the “podcast” segments required the actors to remain inactive sans blocking on stage for long periods of time. This would require the dialogue to do all the work maintaining interest in the subject(s) on stage. In the case of Rogers’ dialogue, some of those scenes tended to meander.
The show was well lit with specialized lighting, but there was some sort of “supernatural” (or rather, “electrical”) hum underscoring the entire show which was distracting at times.
A key device used in the production was a set of several wonderfully crafted and well executed video segments featuring Dawson as Kurt.
Another highlight, and probably the strongest portrayal of the night - while she does not appear on stage until the last 20 minutes of the show, Cheyenne Winley gave an absolutely riveting multi-layered performance.
The material should spark some thought-provoking discussions of the paranormal concepts examined. Should that challenge some perceptions as to what it means to live and live well in today's world, then the show will have accomplished that successfully.
Ticket prices for the performances are: $15 General / $5 Students & Seniors (60+) with a special Dec. 12 (Pay What You Can) show.
The show is one hour 20 minutes with no intermission.
Kevin T. Baldwin is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)