By Stanford Friedman
There is more going on than what meets the eye in Emily Schwend’s sharp and twisted The Other Thing. It’s a feminist revenge fantasy disguised as a traditional ghost story. It’s a nasty little parable about carrying the scars of your parents. And it’s a winking switcheroo where the men come in three different flavors, all of them too chatty for the dangerous woman in their lives who has had just about enough. There will be blood.
Spoiler alert: It is not possible to discuss the play as a whole without at least partially divulging the surprise turn of events at the end of Act One. So, here’s a little music to listen to if you’d rather skip what follows.
Well, Carl (John Doman) and Brady (James Kautz) are just your typical father and son ghost hunting team. They are laid back but gruff, in that rural Virginia kind of way, and skeptical enough about their profession to drink on the job, even when being visited by a reporter, Kim (Samantha Soule), for an evening of waiting around and hoping that a spook will make itself known. When we learn that this whole paranormal proclivity thing started after Carl’s divorce, and we sense some familial tension between the two guys, we settle in for an evening of symbolism, another tale of lost men trying to compensate. But wait, this focus on Carl turns out to be misdirection, a risky bait and switch. For, when he raises his voice to Kim, she has a visceral gut reaction. She, shall we say, brings whole new meaning to the term ghost-writer. She, as she says, is “dead serious,” in the most literal way.
Act Two begins in a nether world. Kim opens with a monologue spoken directly to the audience, a charming story about possession and patricide. Then her boyfriend, Thomas (an endearing Bhavesh Patel), comes to call. He couldn’t be sweeter and just doesn’t understand why Kim needs time alone. And Brady drops by, with a few questions about what happened to his pa. But nobody likes an overly persistent lover, or an angry relative stranger, especially the living dead, thus Kim is decidedly less than polite.
Schwend’s gift in her writing of Kim is that she has managed a character that is right on the razor’s edge; sometimes inhabited by a ghoul, sometimes a wizened feminist, and sometimes a psychotic man hater. Well-armed with this material, Soule does a fine job of skittering up and down the spectrum from polite listener to demonic man-slaughterer and back again.
Having seen the play in early preview, I hope that a few of the kinks have since been ironed out. The usually wonderful Doman was still a bit unsure of his lines which added a wrong kind of tension to the opening scenes. And an extremely long and silent bit of business involving a blood trail and a spray bottle failed to deliver whatever message director Lucie Tiberghien was trying to send. I fear there is no hope though for Kris Stone’s overpowering scenic design. In Act One the characters sit in front of a massive wood panel wall which looks like an adventure in wainscoting that has spun out of control, but which, we are told, is supposed to be the outside of a barn. Later, a distracting piece of artwork and a murphy bed pull down from it to become Kim’s apartment. Kim, at one point, bitterly observes that “men love explaining.” Ms. Schwend certainly gives men a lot to dissect, but Ms. Stone’s work defies explanation.
The Other Thing – Written by Emily Schwend, Directed by Lucie Tiberghien.
WITH: James Kautz (Brady), John Doman (Carl), Bhavesh Patel (Thomas), and Samantha Soule (Kim).
Scenic design by Kris Stone, costumes by Beth Goldenberg, lighting design by Matthew Richards, sound design by Broken Chord; Turner Smith, fight director, Lori Ann Zepp, production stage manager. Presented by Second Stage Theater Uptown at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway, at 76th Street. 212-246-4422, http://2st.com/shows/current-production/the-other-thing. Through June 7th. Running time: 2 hours.