By: David Sheward
June 8, 2023: You know you’re in trouble when one of the first lines of a thriller is “I’ve seen this movie before.” That unoriginal piece of dialogue is spoken by Henry, half of a pair of classic victims, as he and his wife Max stumble into a remote mountain cabin after crashing their car. Anyone who has ever watched a horror flick will known something very bad is going to happen. This is the overly familiar premise of Levi Holloway’s bizarre, limp spook show Grey House now at the Lyceum, though probably not for very long.
The play is loaded with allusions to previous film and TV scary-stuff, promising chills galore and failing to deliver. As the curtain rises on Scott Pask’s creepy, Addams Family-esque set, we are greeted by five weird-looking tweens resembling the twins in The Shining. As if that weren’t enough of a scare-inducer they are watching Road Runner cartoons on TV and the theme song is exactly the same one little Danny listened to before his dad Jack went psycho in the same movie. Something alerts the little ones that strangers are approaching, they leave and Henry and Max enter.
Without revealing any spoilers, Max and Henry who has suffered a broken leg, find themselves stuck as a snowstorm continues unabated (another Shining plot point). The phone line has been conveniently cut and the program tells us it’s 1977, so no cell phones. The five youngsters—four girls and a boy—appear to have supernatural powers and are holding their caregiver Raleigh, who may or may not be their mother, captive. The unfortunate visitors have a troubled past which the kids gradually ferret out, resulting in macabre rituals and supposed thrills. Even when the true nature of the house and its residents is revealed, there are still numerous loose, unexplained ends, leaving lots of head-scratching by the final curtain. Thankfully, the show only runs a little over 90 minutes, so no one suffers for very long.
Why a Tony-winning director like Joe Mantello and one of our most intelligent and perceptive actresses Laurie Metcalf (who does her best with the enigmatic Raleigh) would be involved in such a turkey is a bigger mystery than the one on stage. Mantello manages to infuse a modicum of suspense and tension into a script which lacks any. He is abetted by the expert spectral lighting and sound design by Natasha Katz and Tom Gibbons, respectively.
The cast deserves medals for endowing their shadowy characters with substance. As mentioned Metcalf gives Raleigh a subtext and conflict only hinted at in Holloway’s flimsy script. The resourceful Paul Sparks does his best to bring life to the cipher-like Henry who turns out to be some sort of symbol for male aggression. Understudy Claire Karpen, subbing for Tatiana Maslany as Max, has at least a through-line to her character: she is trying to make sense of the weird-ass happenings around her and eventually gives up and goes along with the madness. Audience members who want to keep from pulling their hair out in frustration, would be wise to do the same. Sophie Ann Caruso, Millicent Simmonds, Colby Kipnes, and Alyssa Emily Marvin do have some sharp moments as the weird pre-teens. Unfortunately for them, Eamon Patrick O’Connell as the lone boy in the house and Cyndi Coyne as an ethereal elderly spirit called The Ancient have no discernible purpose in these unfathomable proceedings.
I counted 30 above-the-title producers in the Playbill. You would think at least one of these supposedly savvy entrepreneurs would have the brains to say, “What a minute, this show makes no sense. I’m pulling out.” But no. So we have Grey House, the weirdest bomb in recent memory as the first show of the 2023-24 Broadway season. Nowhere to go from here but up.
Grey House **
Opened May 30 for an open run. Lyceum Theater, 149 W. 45th St., NYC. Running time: one hour and 45 mins. with no intermission. telecharge.com.