As the pandemic has worn on, artists have attempted to maximize the potential of streaming theatre, trying to make the experience more engaging for the audience. So far I’ve seen pre-taped shows, live shows, solo performances, and then we get to the “interactive” productions, which have included magic acts, escape rooms, murder mysteries and even a cooking exhibition. The Geffen Stayhouse has specialized in these sorts of productions during the past year, and its new show, Someone Else’s House, continues this tradition as an interactive haunted house story. Unfortunately it’s a bit mixed in terms of quality, with a surfeit of intriguing setup that leads to a disappointing denouement.
Jared Mezzocchi is going to tell us a true story about his family, something that happened to his parents and siblings in the late 1970s, before he was born. He sits in a well-lit room, describing how his family moved into an old Victorian house in Enfield, New Hampshire, and how they were only the second family to live there in 177 years. During most of that time, he tells us, it was the residence of the Johnson family–all branches of which lived there together in the huge home. When the Mezzocchis move in, they repaint the formerly red house white. Shortly thereafter, standard spectral things begin to occur: doors and windows open or close of their own accord and lights flicker. Jared moves into progressively less well-lit rooms as he continues the story, which details the horrific events that caused his family to flee the house. This would be the end of the tale, except that Jared – who never experienced these events himself – is determined to get to the truth of the story via his own research, which he may soon have cause to regret.
Mezzocchi is an appealing performer, and he does a solid job of moving the slow burn of the story forward while keeping the audience engaged. This is doubly important, because the production features a lot of what could be dry historical data (maps, family trees, newspaper articles and genealogical bios) to investigate the haunting, and Mezzocchi manages to impart all of this information in a compelling way. His performance is effective for most of the piece, but when he is supposed to be panicked at one point he goes over the top in a way that comes off as more silly than scary.
Director Margot Bordelon gets strong work from Mezzocchi, and the subtle transitions from area to area succeed at creating a gradually darkening mood. The special effects by Virtual Design Collective (Vidco) are professional but a bit underwhelming, excepting the final outdoor scene, which lives up to its greater ambitions. Mezzocchi’s play (he also wrote it) is genuinely interesting in its accumulation of family stories and historical documents, but it unfortunately fails to pull all of these threads together into a satisfying conclusion. At the end of the production, the explanation for what’s going on is at best vague and makes it seem like all of the detailed data before was just filler. This is too bad, because there’s three-quarters of a good show here, and perhaps a rewriting of the conclusion might help matters.
Zoom films such as 2020’s surprisingly good Host or plays such as The Woman in Black have proved that theatrical horror can excel, but sadly Someone Else’s House, in its current incarnation, does not continue that tradition.
Someone Else’s House, produced by Geffen Stayhouse in association with Virtual Design Collective, is now streaming. Season extended through July 3, 2021.
Tickets are available at www.geffenplayhouse.org.