Disembodied hands — or so they seem — reach up from the floor. Sheets draped over rows of seating transform into a turbulent sea. An enigmatic pink-robed figure reinforces the brooding air of a dingy corridor.
Rorschach Theatre’s staging of Steve Yockey’s horror-themed play “Very Still & Hard to See” capitalizes effectively on space: the full compass, and surroundings, of the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Lang Theatre, which has been given an unusual setup here, with the audience seated on the stage. Director Randy Baker and his colleagues have even spliced some haunted-house-style immersive sequences into this homespun but adventurous production, which chronicles the macabre goings-on at a haunted seaside hotel.
In the show’s opening moments, you’re ushered from the Atlas lobby into an elevator, which is presided over by a man with a spectrally pallid face. Then you walk down the aforementioned corridor, past the pink-robed figure, who is mysteriously scouring the floor, and take your seats on what would usually be the stage — an area you share with the actors. The raked part of the theater where the audience would typically sit slumbers beneath sheets, serving mostly as a backdrop to the play’s scenes.
Those scenes explore the vexed legacy of Buck Mason (Colin Smith), a brilliant architect whose integrity is compromised by a terrible secret. After succumbing to supernatural blackmail, Buck unwittingly turns his newly constructed hotel into a stomping ground for the demonic. A sultry wraith named Ginger (Farrell Parker), who wears a glittery dress, lures suitors to the hotel — only to devour them. An insomniac wife (Kari Ginsburg) discovers an inexplicable hole in the floor — a hole that widens as she confronts her husband (Peter Finnegan) about his lies. Three bickering teenagers named Jasper, Sam and Kimberly (James Finley, Ryan Tumulty and Amanda Forstrom) find themselves possessed by spirits who have met violent deaths in a hotel room. And so on.
Stylized movement and other touches enhance the production’s eerie atmospherics. In one expressive sequence, the ensemble members wear creepy white masks, advancing menacingly down through the raked aisles of the theater during a series of staccato blackouts. In the scene evoking the hellishly widening hole, actors lie on the floor and roll periodically to the side to suggest the expanding mouth of the fissure. All of the performers pad about barefoot throughout — adding to a generally dreamlike aura. (Robbie Hayes designed the lighting; Forstrom is movement consultant; Debra Kim Sivigny devised the costumes.)
Dramatist Yockey has worked tongue-in-cheek material into his thrills-and-chills anthology. The lethal Ginger hangs out with a set of nerdy and rather appalled accountant-like helpmates, who seem to be in charge of documenting her kills. And when Jasper, Sam and Kimberly confront the undead, they get a lecture on the derivation of the term “living room.” It turns out that the inhabitants of the afterlife much prefer the term “parlor.”
Wren is a freelance writer.
By Steve Yockey. Directed by Randy Baker; scenic design, Brian Gillick; sound design, Frank DiSalvo Jr.; props, Britney Mongold; assistant director, Bridget Grace Sheaff; fight choreography, Casey Kaleba; dance choreography, Sarah Taurchini. With Yasmin Tuazon, Jennifer J. Hopkins, Shravan Amin and Sarah Taurchini. 90 minutes. Tickets: $20-$30. Through May 10 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. 202-399-7993 or www.rorschachtheatre.com.