A review of Susan Soon He Stanton’s surreal ghost story “The Things Are Against Us,” a Washington Ensemble Theatre production on stage through May 16.
Susan Soon He Stanton’s surreal ghost story “The Things Are Against Us” involves a pair of lovesick sisters, a Lebanese immigrant and the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca converging in a creepy New England farm house, but the path there is anything but linear.
Governed by dream logic, with several time periods running simultaneously, Stanton’s play works hard to obfuscate what is at its core a “Twilight Zone”-esque yarn about inanimate objects taking on a life of their own and terrorizing their owners.
Among the “things”: a suit that belonged to a man who committed a heinous crime in a bathtub, and a sinister house bequeathed to a pair of sisters, with the facade of the estate rendered perfectly by Julia Welch’s imposing backdrop as a filth-encrusted architectural impossibility.
‘The Things Are Against Us’
by Susan Soon He Stanton. Through Monday, May 16, at 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., Seattle; $15-$25 (206-325-5105 or washingtonensemble.org).
Welch’s set establishes an unsettling tenor immediately upon arrival, and Washington Ensemble Theatre (WET)’s world premiere production keeps renewing the spell all the way to the play’s rather silly conclusion, where the tension evaporates, as if a campfire storyteller dropped the flashlight and burst into laughter.
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Before then, several narrative threads become intertwined. Solange (Samie Spring Detzer), who lives in New York City, is nearly inconsolable after a breakup with Carlo (Ian Bond), while her sister Tessa (Allison Standley) has taken over operations at the Massachusetts farmhouse, where she lusts after local flannel-wearing hunk Caspar (Robert Bergin).
Tessa seems really committed to cosplaying the Victorian era, clad in high-necked, floor-length dresses, and she’s eager for Solange to finally come visit — but there are indications there might be more than distance separating them. In Stanton’s epistolary first act, the pair’s correspondence becomes increasingly fractured, until their emails and letters are no longer arriving. (A wry gag about an undeliverable message from the Mailer-Daemon provides a flash of humor — and a clue.)
Meanwhile, Yusef (Jeffrey Azevedo) finds himself drawn to the journal and possessions of his late grandfather, donning his brown suit and nonworking watch despite warnings about the man’s evil nature, while poet Lorca (Jany Bacallao) can’t shake a premonition about his own premature death.
If all these elements don’t quite add up to a satisfying stew of repressed desires, ancestral sins and vengeful inorganic materials, at least the ingredients are of good stock. Detzer and Standley have fun with the script’s knowing clichés about hysterical women, while Azevedo exhibits a moth-to-flame quality with his charming naiveté. Stanton’s occasionally florid prose achieves just the right note of refined detachment in Bacallao’s performance, making it all the more disappointing when he doesn’t turn out to be the play’s de facto narrator.
Plus, there might not be a company in Seattle better suited than WET to handle a play composed almost entirely of mood. Director Bobbin Ramsey, who’s helmed several impressive productions for experimental-minded troupe The Horse in Motion, delivers a visually arresting work, aided by Tristan Roberson, whose stark lighting and unnerving projections help make “Things” a piercing horror fable — and a welcome affirmation of theater that aims for more than a purely functional narrative.