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Wednesday, June 14, 2023

[Review] Grey House Brings a Genuinely Terrifying Cabin in the Woods Tale to Broadway

Tatiana Maslany, Laurie Metcalf, and Paul Sparks star in ‘Grey House,’ a scary, psychological play that turns Broadway into a haunted house of horrors.

“I’ve seen this movie. We don’t make it…”

Horror is a popular genre for many reasons, but at the end of the day there is just nothing like the genuine experience of being afraid. Horror films do their best to immerse their audience in terror with no reprieve, yet there are inherent limitations to this storytelling medium. There’s still screen, and therefore safety, between the audience and their fears. Live theater, especially those on Broadway, live and die through their ability to not just keep audiences entertained, but to truly believe in the spectacle before them. Horror on Broadway is therefore a deeply appealing combination, albeit one that’s all-too rare because of the difficulty in its execution.

There’s The Crucible, The Elephant Man, Bug, and even horror-adjacent musical experiences like Sweeney Todd and Jekyll & Hyde, as well as musicals that ambitiously adapt movies like Beetlejuice, Carrie, Young Frankenstein and The Evil Dead. Arguably, none of these are true horror that leave audiences shuddering and gasping instead of humming to the curtain call. They’re spooky, not scary, no matter how much blood gets spilled on the stage. It’s difficult to translate this into the cold sweats and tightened fists that come out of fear. A horror movie’s scares can be pacified or strengthened through its editing and other cinematic tools that would seemingly be impossible to replicate in theater. Grey House isn’t perfect, but it expertly pulls off this tall task as it makes its audience believe and fear this visceral piece of theater. 

Grey House kicks off in a manner that’s all-too familiar and almost painfully self-aware. Max (Tatiana Maslany) and Henry (Paul Sparks), a young couple, hit a deer with their car and find refuge in a nearby cabin wherein they hope that Henry can heal his broken ankle and that they’re able to quickly get back on track with their trip. It’s not long until Henry and Max meet the unconventional occupants of this cabin–and whatever else lurks within its walls–and accept the fact that they’re at the mercy of this freaky “family.”

Led (although that’s putting it loosely) by Laurie Metcalf’s Raleigh, this ornery matriarch herds in the chaos that comes in the form of five children, Marlow (Sophia Anna Caruso), Bernie (Millicent Simmonds), Squirrel (Colby Kipnes), A1656 (Alyssa Emily Marvin) and The Boy (Eamon Patrick O’Connell). All of the adults here shine and this claustrophobic story provides plenty of opportunities for tense showdowns to take place between every combination of Metcalf, Maslany, and Sparks. That being said, it’s the children that are the real stars in Grey House. The group collectively function like a haunted Greek chorus that inexplicably shifts into sporadic songs and telekinetic displays of sisterhood. Each of these children contribute a different vibe to Grey House’s atmosphere and at their best there are shades of Ils, The Orphanage, or even Children of the Corn. Marlow in particular feels like if Wednesday Addams or Lydia Deetz spent a year abroad in Twin Peaks’ Black Lodge. 

Grey House review Broadway

Photo Credit: MurphyMade

Grey House is a play that assumes that its audience is savvy towards the various tropes that define horror and leans into them with gleeful intensity. There are strong jump scares and moments when the stage descends into complete darkness, but these almost feel like a test run for the more aggressive and psychological horrors that sneak up on the audience and push them to question what they’re seeing. These raw attacks that get under the audience’s skin are more important than logic here. The audience is increasingly on edge and unable to let themselves relax over the anomalies that begin to crack the nature of reality.

Scott Pask’s impeccable set design actively intensifies several of Grey House’s scares. At first glance, this is just a run of the mill cabin, but it begins to feel like a living, breathing entity that transforms along with the characters. It’s simultaneously cozy and carnivorous. There are glimpses of the aforementioned Bug once Grey House dips its toe into more paranoid material. However, the closest analogue here–both thematically and in terms of horror–are the works of David Lynch. Grey House prefers not to spoon feed its audience and its story is very much about the confrontation of past demons and how they can manifest into actual people, not unlike Lost Highway. Grey House is one big psychogenic fugue state where Max and Henry accept life’s uncertainties and make peace with this chaos. 

If nothing else, there’s a moment that makes the audience feel like they’re in the train car during Laura Palmer’s murder in Twin Peaks, which is really as frightening and psychically traumatic as it gets. Not everything in Grey House works, and like most fugue states there are moments of repetition to better solidify the work’s themes, but this grandiose nightmare moment makes the experience worth it. Much like Pask’s set design, Natasha Katz’s lighting design and Tom Gibbons’ sound design are the other secret weapons to this production. Sonic dissonance blasts and rattles the audience. Directed by Joe Mantello and written by Levi Holloway, it should be incredibly interesting to see what this creative team tackles next and whether it’s an evolution of these ideas or something completely contrary.

Grey House tells a story that’s intentionally cryptic and symbolically dense. This may leave some audiences unsatisfied, but it fosters a natural need to discuss and dissect what’s been seen the moment that audiences funnel out of the theater. This is what the very best horror stories trigger and The Grey House is almost as much fun to deconstruct post-mortem as it is to get lost in its free-roaming darkness throughout its hour-and-forty-minutes runtime. Grey House still lacks the gravitas and scope of some of the best horror movies, but it’s far and away the scariest thing that’s currently on Broadway and guaranteed to please and scare horror and theater fans alike.

‘Grey House’ is currently in production at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre.

The post [Review] “Grey House” Brings a Genuinely Terrifying Cabin in the Woods Tale to Broadway appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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