New York

Ectoplasm – The Players Theatre, New York City

Writer: Sara Fellini

 Director: Sara Fellini

 Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers

 A séance at a private party in 1912: the compelling and promising premise for Ectoplasm, Sara Fellini’s new play, produced by Spit & Vigor at The Players Theatre. The stunning set and sound design, both by Florence Scagliarini create a powerful ambiance pre-show, with period-specific visuals and cleverly anachronistic song choices. Chelsie McPhilimy’s lights are both eeire and welcoming.  After a charming pre-show greeting inviting the audience to consider their own mortality (funnier than it sounds!), the ninety-minute show begins.

Unfortunately, the play as a whole does not entirely live up to the promise set forth by the pre-show impression. The cast is committed and compelling in their energetic performances. The premise is charming. However, the production overall feels simultaneously meandering and predictable. The will-they-or-won’t-they romantic storyline between Sara (Jillian Sicalese) and Kaye (Caitlin Dullahan-Bates) is a touchstone throughout the play, but gets muddied among communing with dead bunnies, blood rituals, boisterous interjections from the bon vivant hostess of the evening, discussions of the suffragist movement, and ill-conceived cocktail choices by the butler.

There are some beautiful moments in this play, moments that make the audience wonder if Sara has a true gift as a medium or is an impressively adept charlatan. There are interesting questions being asked, but everything feels a bit too scattered to land with impact. Structurally, Ectoplasm feels like a 1950s kitchen sink drama, which stands in odd juxtaposition to its supernatural subject matter.  Though the structure and staging may be a matter of personal preference and aesthetic, some of the clunkier directorial choices are harder to view with impartiality – in a key moment (spoiler alert! No way around it), when a spirit is sent back to the realm of the dead, a member of the crew comes out, throws a shroud over the character who is re-dying, and releases a gray balloon into the air, wherein it deflates and sinks to the floor. This stagehand moment unfortunately caused unintended laughter throughout the house. In a farce, it would have been a great choice, but Ectoplasm is no farce. And a clumsy bit of stage business at such a crucial moment of the play takes the wind out of its sails.

While certainly not an unpleasant evening at the theatre, Ectoplasm unfortunately is not a show this reviewer can full-throatedly recommend. There is potential here, and perhaps with a tweaks and a little time, Ectoplasm can become as hauntingly good as its potential.

Runs Through 6 February 2022 | Photo Credit: Federico Mostert

 

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