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.
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.