Review by: Scott Feinblatt
Ghosts of Christmases Past Come in Many Forms
The Mystery Plays Reminds Horror Fans that Ghosts can Rattle more than Chains
Daniel Jimenez (left) and Frank Blocker review a list of missing
persons reports in a scene from The Mystery Plays.
Photo by Jeremy Andorfer
Transformation is a part of life. It is also a necessity
in storytelling. People and scenarios that don't
transform are either dead or dying. Since language
is a trait of both storytelling and life, it is natural for
word definitions to change as well. For example, the
word “mystery” has not always possessed
connotations of “whodunit”. Moreover, its Medieval
origins had to do with unknowable aspects of
divinity. Additionally, during the Medieval period the
Christmastime tradition of mystery plays began; the
subject matter consisted of biblical stories and
miracles. It was the tradition of these plays which
provided the inspiration for the The Mystery Plays
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.
The Mystery Plays, presented by The Visceral
Company, is a profound synthesis of the multiple
definitions of the word “mystery”. The narratives (two
interrelated one-act plays) keep the audience in
suspense while meditating upon existential
questions. Their similarities to the traditional mystery
plays include: they take place during the holiday
season, they deal with the unknowable and, to
varying degrees, they deal with sins. Without
knowing too much about the original mystery plays,
it seems the main disparity is that the events in this
show do not center on biblical allegories.
The first play, The Filmmaker's Journey, is about a horror film director who is visited by a ghost with an agenda.
The second, Ghost Children, is the story of a lawyer returning to her hometown to give a deposition for the
appeal of her brother, who has been imprisoned for years after murdering their parents. I don't want to say too
much about either play because I don't want to ruin any surprises. It is enough to say that each story touches the
sublime and does what any great story (horror or non-horror) does: it takes you on a transformative emotional
and spiritual journey through the spectrum of the human experience.
Christopher Basile directs the small
ensemble cast of six players through
their various roles in each play.
Basile's stagings make outstanding
use of the small space and create a
wide variety of minimalist, yet
atmospheric environments for the
drama to play out – accolades are due
Johnny Burton for his set designs and
Ric Zimmerman for his lighting design.
The Visceral Company's founder and
artistic director, Dan Spurgeon,
creates a subtle but effective sound
design which nicely complements all of
the action. Actors Daniel Jimenez and
Devereau Chumrau deliver fine
performances in the lead roles of the
first and second plays, respectively.
Michael Mraz disappears into his
various roles, with the highlight being
his supporting role in the first play.
Frank Blocker and Laura Julian are
terrific character actors who essentially
Alex Taber (left, on bike) and Devereau Chumrau are siblings hatching a
scheme in a scene from The Mystery Plays. Photo by Jeremy Andorfer
provide humorous counterpoints to the some of the heavier content. Finally, the unassuming portrayals of Alex
Taber, particularly in the supporting role of the imprisoned brother, most naturally cut through the veneer of
the theatrical form and allowed Aguirre-Sacasa's transcendent script to pierce our hearts.
The Mystery Plays provides an excellent
example of the pathos that should be
present in all horror stories. There are
grisly and shocking moments in them, but
they are delicately balanced with
emotional, intellectual and spiritual
considerations. Furthermore, there are
enough references in the first play to
cater to aficionados of the horror genre
(particularly Lovecraft fans), but the
overall strength in storytelling should
also placate non-genre fans since, after
all, we're all made of the same stuff.
Daniel Jimenez (left) and Michael Mraz are strangers on a train in a scene
from The Mystery Plays. Photo by Jeremy Andorfer