By Holli Harms
Soundwaves do not dissipate nor fade away. They remain, at a different vibration, where they were created and linger throughout time forever.
This is the set up for the new play The Seance Machine which professes to show the work of scientists through the ages who have devoted themselves to capturing those reduced wave sounds and “listened-in” to the past.
The seance in The Seance Machine is not where the dead are contacted for a conversation or to communicate with the living, but eavesdropping on voices from the past, voices that spoke only on the very spot where the machine is. Tuned to the right frequencies, with the right machine, the past can be heard again.
It is an interesting premise and laid out with such care that I had to research after the show to see if indeed scientists such as Thomas Edison and Guglielmo Marconi had tried to create such a machine. I won’t tell you the outcome, you can google for yourself.
Beyond the “who might be the voices left behind in a specific place”, is also the idea of how many of us have been existing on any one small piece of land since the beginning of time. The layers of life on any spot on the island of Manhattan stack up on top of each other to consider the layers of life everywhere. Historically, we stand on top of one another but our “voices” are all alive together.
You are ushered in and given a white lab coat to wear throughout the production. This is a science experiment after all and you are now a scientist along with the rest of the audience ready to fully experience history, live. Did mastodons travel up and down Manhattan? Dinosaurs? The audience is given a chronicle narrative of the garment district and the story of the building. After the introductions by the three lead scientists conducting the experiment, and the history of the area, and the story of the multiple attempts to create a listening device, we all get to put the machine to the test.
Our three scientists, Dr. Carolyn Blau (Lisa C.M. Lamothe), Dr. John Alvarez (Jonathan Cruz) and Dr. Gabby White (Ilana Gabrielle), are eager, and excited, and so affable that they are sugar-coated fun, but the fun does not last long as a voice that has been incubating for lifetimes reaches like bone fingers around a locked door through their Seance Machine slithering its way to freedom. They have inadvertently unleashed an “exorcist” devil, and he’s not a happy guy. He, unfortunately, quickly embodies the sweetest of the scientists, the mousey Dr. White (Gabrielle). Ilana Gabrielle gets to have the most fun of the night as she transforms from mouse to monster and she does so with wonderful abandonment and really creepy originality. Really creepy.
The writing is deft and fun and the voice overs and sounds emanating from all around make this a completely entertaining horror happening. The directing and choreography keep the 60 minutes of scary play (they pack a lot into 60 minutes) rolling along like a non-stop haunted rollercoaster. The Seance Machine is a fun ride of a show acted by a terrific ensemble.
Featuring the voice talents of Walter Bolin, A. Faulkner, Jennifer Fouche’, Christopher Gurr, Allison Posner, Tori Scott, Julia Sears, Anne Fraser Thomas, Anne Troup, Jason Veasey, and Joel Waggoner
Creative Team: Sound design Brandon James Gwinn, Scenic & Projection Design Susannah Hyde, Lighting design Annie Garret-Larsen, Stage Manager Juliana Spinola, Fight Choreographer Julia Seers
The Tank 312 West 36th Street Floor 1, NYC 10018. Oct 10 -Oct 31st Running Time: 60 minutes