“I was all ready for a fright. I really was, and that’s surprising for me, because I don’t really like being spooked, especially cheaply,” if you know what I mean. So when I tuned into TheaterWorks Hartford and ViDCo streaming presentation of Someone Else’s House, I did with a nervous apprehension, alongside a bit of a silly fun smile. I tend to not watch scary movies (although I love smart suspenseful films like “The Shining“ but can’t watch most of the ‘AHS‘ series) or really anything that purposefully sets out to make me jump out of my skin. I am first in line for a roller coaster – that fear is amazing – but I’m definitely the one sneaking my way out of line for the haunted house ride or any of those types of Halloween events that pop up to scare you at this time of the year. But even with all that silly nonsense inside me, I signed up, gleefully, for this one-man haunted house storytelling adventure, etched out and painted blood red by Obie-winning writer and performer Jared Mezzocchi (Vineyard’s upcoming On the Beauty of Loss) based on a familial ghostly trauma that he tells us, most emphatically, is very very true, and that it really did happen, mainly to his brother and parents, so many years ago. And that it still gives their family chills and nightmares to this very day.
It’s quite the intro, pulling us into his personal dark retelling with a friendly ease and curiousity that is disarming and engaging. Directed with a cunning wink by Margot Bordelon (PH’s Wives), Someone Else’s House gives Mezzocchi an open entry to explore and dig deep into the complex history of this 200-year-old New England house, a house that his family moved into – cause it was such a financial steal – long before he was around to experience the ‘happening’. Lucky for him, I would add.
Trying hard to unearth some understanding of this frightening, true-life haunting, Mezzocchi lays out his plan within this fun and engaging live virtual experience. He wants to get to the red beating heart of the manner, a haunting trauma that has buried itself deep in his brother’s bones waking him up, to this day, with nightmare screams into the abyss. He wants to unearth the bones of this house, and find its buried anger and resentment that live on inside his brother and parents’ mind. “This is my family’s true story,” he states early on, reminding us to keep that in mind as he winds his way, most inventively through the history of the house and its previous occupants. “These occurrences took place before I was born, and I’ve spent my whole life frightening my friends with this tale. This past year, I found myself digging deeper into the story – aligning my family’s memories with the actual history of the house and its previous inhabitants.” So on this night, live streaming for our enjoyment, he leads us through his scary ghost story, taken from his parents’ own tale, and fleshed out for us, courtesy of TheaterWorks Hartford.
“There is something wrong with the house,” his brother is said to have told his father one night many years ago, over the phone in a state of dissociated shock. And we feel the chill and the anticipation of worse things to come. The show is not pre-recorded, we are told, and no two hauntings are the same. We are encouraged to engage on a deeper more impactful level by purchasing an enhanced ticket that includes a conjuring packet mailed to us before the night of our viewing. Not to be opened until showtime. The packet is a collection of artifacts orchestrated to set the scene for the haunting, and pull us inside his investigation. We are told to light a candle, grab a blanket, and turn off the lights, all to make us feel the chill that Mezzocchi has set out to instill. The set-up is clever, and in some ways, especially when looking at the gloriously dark and spooky old portraits of the Johnson family, the original owners of the house from the 1800s, gives us the gently smart push forward into the scary hallways of the house, asking us to join him as we descend into the unworldly madness of the tale itself.
Someone Else’s House gleefully takes us along through the darkness, filling us with almost too much interactive vision to stay fully pulled into the unknown. This is, essentially, a campfire ghost story, and the cool black and white photos of the family and the house work their magic, drawing us in neatly and wisely. The google street views do a lesser job, taking us out into the sun and making it hard to maintain the edge. But the ghostly ideas sneak in, setting us up quite well for the payoff. I can’t say I was fully there or fully spooked, but my skin was twitching waiting for the preverbial boogeyman to jump out and make me yelp. And then the piece free falls into a Blair Witch project structure, that flickers like the lights in the background hallway somewhere between scary and silly. The startles and the shreks sneak obviously into the foreground, presenting themselves as almost too much and not obsessively creepy enough to make me jump, or to keep me on the edge of my seat. It is a fascinating construct, structured around a really good idea and solid backstory, with a few good pop-ups, but in the end, the tale is not told slyly or quietly enough to keep you in that place of tension or fear, like you would if we were sitting around a fire in the middle of the woods at summer camp. I was nervous going in, thinking it was going to make me jump out of my seat, but in the end, it just made me smile at its cute storytelling and sorta giggle to myself as the red became the color of the night.
Performances of Someone Else’s House run October 21–31 and take place Tuesday through Sunday at 8pm with additional midnights shows on Saturdays. In-person streaming watch parties will take place at TheaterWorks Hartford’s home, located downtown at 233 Pearl Street, on October 23, 24, 25, 29, 30, and 31 at 8pm. Tickets, priced at $45–$75, can be purchased online at www.twhartford.org or by calling 860.527.7838. Someone Else’s House is recommended for ages 12 and above. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. There is no late seating. Audiences are strongly encouraged to “check-in” at least 20 minutes prior to start time. Enhanced tickets, which include a conjuring packet, must be purchased at least five days in advance of the performance to ensure delivery.
Someone Else’s House was first produced in April 2021 as a world premiere production by Geffen Playhouse, in association with Virtual Design Collective, as part of the Los Angeles theater’s groundbreaking Geffen Stayhouse live, virtual and interactive series. Please visit www.twhartford.org for more information.
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