Chicago Theater Review: GREY HOUSE (A Red Orchid)

Post image for Chicago Theater Review: GREY HOUSE (A Red Orchid)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 20, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


Make of this what you will. All too predictably, every review that Grey House receives will be different. Because this new work by Red Orchid Theatre ensemble member Levi Holloway defies the consistency and plausibility that feed consensus. A 95-minute absurdist horror tale, director Shade Murray’s impressively enacted world premiere is a twisted tribute to family feeling carried over the proverbial cliff.

In an isolated mountain cabin, characters who may or not be already dead and are as metaphorical as actual undergo bizarre encounters during a big blizzard. Following an ugly car crash caused by bad conditions and inattention, young lovers Max (Sadieh Rifai) and Henry (Travis A. Knight), who has broken his ankle, seek help. They get taken in (in both senses) by a crazy clan, a mother/minder (Kirsten Fitzgerald) and five knife-wielding kids (presumably kin to the Children of the Corn) who she calls, with incredible understatement, “willful creatures.”

Indeed. Indulging in chanting or playing with a macramé that seems to consist of human intestines, these forthright fledglings demand direct answers about the couple’s possible conflicts and crimes. Possibly deaf or just determinedly mute, the youngsters (Sarah Cartwright, Haley Bolithon, Kayla Casiano, and Autumn Hlava) indulge in “time outs,” robotic repetition, a cappella choruses, nosebleeds, control over power blackouts (and the dimming, humming lights), and esoteric cooking rituals that bond them.

Along with a “gaping hole to hell” in the basement, creepy sounds from above and a refrigerator whose contents change from hour to hour, The Ancient (Dado) appears, a living mummy who will seduce Henry with a sinister blend of sepulchral stillness and incipient dementia. Injured Henry is also tortured (hideous effects) and then presumably becomes one of them.

Possible escapees from a Stephen King scenario, the inmates insistently play “truth or dare” games like “Show in Hell” meant to divide the couple and force them to confess sins that these whelps from hell seem to channel. As one remarks, they may be manifestations of ghosts, sent by our future selves to warn us from harm.

Grey House is altogether too weird and wacky to be what the director calls “a heartfelt story about a foster family’s love for one another in the face of pain and grief” — not when the anguish of these apparitions is both so stylized and so abstract.

But Murray and his nine-member ensemble certainly drive home the inchoate desperation behind the daunting doings in a grey house from nowhere. Whatever they may think of the strange stuff they do and say, five remarkable young actors fully commit themselves to the loony-tunes overkill of Holloway’s Halloween contender. As always, a formidable Fitzgerald brings immediacy to even the nuttiest pronouncements.

As I said, make of it what you will.

photos by Fadeout Photo

Grey House
A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave
Thurs–Sat at 7:30; Sat & Sun at 3
ends on December 1, 2019
for tickets, call 312.943.8722 or visit A Red Orchid

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

Comments on this entry are closed.