Trick or treat? Manbites Dog Theater’s inaugural production, Seventy Scenes of Halloween by Jeffrey M. Jones has a little of both. First staged in December of 1987 and repeated on Nov. 29-Dec. 1 and Dec. 6-9, 12-13, and 15, 2012, under the new direction of Akiva Fox and Adam Sobsey, Seventy Scenes of Halloween mixes mirth with terror in a series numbered scenes, performed almost completely out of order. That’s the play’s principal gimmick, and it can be confusing as to what is real and what is a dream, etc.
During the play’s first three scenes, an otherwise nice normal suburban couple named Jeff and Joan (played by Dan VanHoozer and Emily K. Hill) bicker over whether they are ready for Halloween. (Jeff thinks they aren’t, because Joan forgot to buy some Kandy Korn.) Then the trick-or-treaters (portrayed by Carl Martin and Amber J. Wood as a Beast in a goat’s-head mask and a Witch in full witch regalia, pointy hat and all) start to arrive, some of them peering through Joan and Jeff’s picture window.
Ultimately, Seventy Scenes of Halloween becomes a surreal series of flash-forwards and flashbacks in which Jeff and Joan act like the Battling Bickersons and the trick-or-treaters become increasingly sinister, as if a Manson Family Halloween might be imminent. As Bob Dylan famously crooned, “There is something happening here, and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
In Seventy Scenes of Halloween, the humor — and the horror — is in the details, but it would be unfair to reveal more of them here. Suffice it to say that co-directors Akiva Fox and Adam Sobsey could have clarified some points by sharpening the actors’ performances.
Scenic designer Torry Bend’s living room set provides a couple of doors for things that go bump in the night to hide behind, and lighting designer Liz Droessler’s lighting scheme magnifies the creepiness of the situation in which an unbilled fifth actor (assistant stage manager Karen Burns) contributes creepy cameos to this surreal spooktacular.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 5th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=5891; Dec. 5th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2.5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/form-follows-theme-in-manbites-dogs-seventy-scenes-of-halloween-revival/Content?oid=3208329 and Nov. 28th review by David Fellerath: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/manbites-dog-celebrates-25-years-with-a-return-to-where-it-started/Content?oid=3201453; ; Dec. 5th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC 91.5/North Carolina Public Radio interview with Manbites Dog co-founder Ed Hunt, Seventy Scenes of Halloween co-director Akiva Fox, and actors Carl Martin and Emily Hill, conducted by Frank Stasio for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/Manbites_Dog_Turns_25.mp3/view; Dec. 4th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/04/2524292/seventy-scenes-confusing-but-intriguing.html; and Nov. 28th Durham, NC Duke Chronicle preview by Danielle Muoio: http://www.dukechronicle.com/article/manbites-dog-celebrates-25-years-70-short-scenes; and Nov. 22nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/20909030/article-‘Seventy-Scenes’–Manbites-Dog-Theater-revisits-production-that-started-it-all-? (Note 1: You must register to read this article.) (Note 2: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Nov. 30th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/11/manbites-dog-theater-is-reprising-its-first-show-jeffrey-m-jones-seventy-scenes-of-halloween/.)
Manbites Dog Theater presents SEVENTY SCENES OF HALLOWEEN at 3:15 p.m. Dec 9 and 8:15 p.m. Dec. 12-16 at Manbites Dog Theater, 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $17 Friday-Sunday, except $5 for students with ID and a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or http://manbitesdogtheater.tix.com/.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): http://vimeo.com/52903324.
The Play: http://www.broadwayplaypubl.com/ssh.htm (Broadway Play Publishing).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
The Playwright: http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsJ/jones-jeffrey-m.html (Doollee.com).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.