The Players Theatre, NYC
The two word review: Fuck yeah!
The longer review is that Play Dead, currently enjoying an open-ended run at The Players Theatre on McDougal Street, is a bloody joyride of an evening, calling forth the dead from the afterlife while drawing screams and dark laughter from its audiences.
The show cleverly begins with one freakish, yet real, act and then proceeds with a series of ghoulish illusions which, as our host aptly points out, audience members are more likely to believe to be real.There are angry spirits, unearthly forces, several pints of blood (some of which you may take home with you) and a stuffed raven that doesn't like to stay put. To give more details on what actually happens inside the locked doors of that theatre would ruin the fun as well as go against Todd Robbins's request… and we wouldn’t want to do that.
Todd Robbins plays himself, a charming collector of the macabre who openly professes that he is not to be trusted but, in the same breath, encourages you to do so any way. Robbins holds the stage effortlessly, commanding attention with a genteel manner, as if possessed with some weird, discrete sickness that he has come to terms with and forces you to become absorbed in his world. There is an overall uncanny mood to the piece as this dealer in death recounts the devious exploits of some naughty individuals whose crimes range from séance-induced seduction to murdering and eating children. Not the nicest group of spirits to be trapped in a room with but most audience members will leave the theatre unscathed and those who don't probably deserved what happened to them anyway, so it’s an overall happy ending.
Co-written by Robbins and Teller (of Pen & Teller fame) Play Dead is less of a plotted play and more of a haunted happening. Teller also directs, successfully eliminating the need for a suspension of disbelief with the help a creative team of impressive abilities. Leon Rothenberg's sound design creeps up on you, particularly when immersed in total darkness. Johnny Thompson's magic design, which it can be assumed Teller had a hand in, includes some illusions that will leave you guessing how they did that, enough so to make one wonder if there isn't a certain amount of actual black magic at work. The entire production is of a highly professional quality, making the only disappointing moment the curtain call, which removes the sense of menace that otherwise permeates the experience and reminds us once again that it's only a play.
With October behind us and the time of peace on earth and good will to men upon us, its nice to have a little horror to break up the predictable mood of the season. If this is Robbins & Tellers' idea of theatre then we can only hope that this is one of many future, theatrical collaborations