Saturday, December 20, 2014

Review: SEVENTY SCENES OF HALLOWEEN

Seventy scenes. Three hundred lighting cues. Ninety minutes. Four terrific actors. That's "Seventy Scenes of Halloween," which critic Toby Zinman likes a lot.

Review: SEVENTY SCENES OF HALLOWEEN

By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Seventy scenes. Three hundred lighting cues. Ninety minutes. Four terrific actors.

An offstage voice murmurs: “Scene One: Go”  and Jeffrey M. Jones’ Seventy Scenes of Halloween begins. It will continue with seemingly randomly numbered scenes (“Fifty-four: go,” Thirty-six: go”) to scare and amuse us. Director Aaron Oster has arranged this fragmented plot so cleverly that while we’re busy trying to piece the story together, we discover it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it usually does. There are many tricks and many treats in this nifty production by Luna Theater.

A living room. Two upholstered chairs flanking a table holding a plastic pumpkin filled with candy.

Joan ( Megan Slater)  and Jeff (Jared Michael Delaney)  sit in said chairs watching a television which will provide disturbing ambient noise throughout the play. The doorbell (ding dong!) will punctuate every scene — sometimes it’s trick-or-treaters, sometimes it’s a couple  (Griffin Stanton-Ameisen and Angela Smith) who are friends (or doubles), sometimes it’s monsters or ghosts or witches. Or not.

This is a play about marriage; the sad old story about people who love each other but no longer desire each other, people who call to each other from room to room (“I’m in the kitchen.” “What?”) but never hear. He has an affair. She’s angry and hurt. Blah blah blah. We know this plot, we’ve always known this plot.

What makes Seventy Scenes of Halloween different from all those other plays is the fact that it abandons linear narrative and gives us the monsters under the skin: Men are wolves, grotesque and predatory; women are witches, manipulative  and  dangerous. When they’re not monsters, they’re ghosts, haunting the house. When they’re not ghosts, they’re trapped in the closet; the male prisoner rattles the door and moans, “Feed me.”  The female prisoner rattles the door and pleads, “Let me out.”

Delaney and Slater play Jeff and Joan with perfect domestic realism: exasperation, consideration, irritation and all the usual accompaniments: sorry sorry sorry. Stanton-Ameisen is a great beast, but it’s Smith who is the standout; she can shift on a dime from using her normal speaking voice to a thrilling witch voice from every terrifying fairy tale you’ve ever heard.

The costumes are tiptop (and uncredited) as are the masks made by Jillian Keys. The set, with its eerie window and slatted walls that provide brief glimpses of – what was that? — was designed by Mary Rossiter.

To make it all stranger, the press release tells me that “Jeffrey M. Jones wrote Seventy Scenes of Halloween in 1980. The piece, inspired by the failure of his first marriage, is dedicated to his ex-wife, Joan (the central characters are married couple: "Jeff" and "Joan"). In the play, Jeff (a playwright) and Joan's nine-year relationship is challenged by his affair with another woman.”  I hope he gave her the script on their anniversary. Or, better yet, on Halloween.

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Luna Theater at Adrienne Theater Skybox, 2030 Sansom St. Philadelphia, PA 19103. Through Nov.3. Tickets $15-$30 Information: www.lunatheater.org or 215-704-0033.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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