Lewisville — This Halloween season Our Productions Theatre Company has revived local playwright Bruce R. Coleman’s Haunted. In addition to writing the script, Coleman also directed and served as costume designer. The play is part ghost story, part mystery, with a tinge of political scandal and a gay romance thrown in.
Gay couple Barry and Kevin check in to Room No. 1214 at La Hacienda Hotel in Austin. The year is 1990, which explains why both men are wearing plaid flannel shirts. Paco, the bellhop, confesses to the men that the room has a history, not knowing at first that Barry, too, has a connection to the place: his parents died there under mysterious circumstances almost thirty years ago.
Barry has come to the hotel in a last-ditch effort to get closure on his parents’ deaths. He’s hired a psychic to help him find answers and entices Paco to join them at the séance later that night.
Barry Marchant, played by Michael E. Spender, has for 28 been haunted by the mysterious deaths of his parents. He drinks to deal with the pain. In fact, he met his boyfriend Kevin at an AA meeting. Steve Robert Pounds does an admirable job playing the boyfriend. He comes across naturally, and his character’s frustration with and feelings for Barry are believable.
LisaAnne Haram is the evangelical medium Myrna, who Barry finds by opening the Yellow Pages to the listing of psychics, closing his eyes, and pointing. Myrna refers to her power as a miracle and as a spiritual gift. She sincerely wants to “add some healing to the hurt.” This character comes with her own interesting backstory, and Haram, seemingly channeling film and TV actor Leslie Jordan, fleshes out the role nicely.
Rounding out the cast of characters in the 1990 timeline is Paco, played by Rafael Villegas. Paco is a bellhop who has his own connection to the events that happened in Room 1214 in 1962 between Barry’s parents.
Caroline Carter and Blake McNamara are the unhappy couple Lois and Kyle Marchant who have just arrived at La Hacienda in the early ’60s. They’ve left their newborn Barry in care of his grandmother so that Kyle can pursue a career in state politics in Austin. Both actors do a commendable job.
David Benn capably handles the role of the Svengali-type political mastermind and fixer Franklin Midland, who insists on being called Uncle Frank. His ethnic slurs for President Kennedy sound foreign and dated, which is how it should be. Uncle Frank embraces Kyle as the “great white hope” of Texas politics. Like all racist uncles, he means that phrase literally. Faithful bellhop Carlos, who gets swept up in the tragedy, is played by Amir Razavi.
On the night of the reviewed performance, the overall pacing seemed rushed, and most of the actors stumbled over important lines. The lighting design by Julie Simmons effectively sets the tone for each scene, although there was some cue glitches at the performance reviewed.
There are many interesting and strong aspects of Coleman’s script. All the characters, for instance, have enough of a backstory to keep them from flattening into caricatures. One aspect that the production gets really right is how it stages the overlap of the play’s two timelines. Characters opening doors, for example, in 1962 are perceived by the characters in 1990 to be the effects of a poltergeist. It doesn’t come across as contrived.
At times, characters from both timelines meet and interact, as when Barry stumbles upon his mother having a drink at the table. But because of Barry’s alcoholism, the audience doesn’t get an easy explanation of this scene. Was this interaction just a figment of Barry’s bender? Or did the bottle of booze really come from the past?
The script, however, could be a little tighter. The play currently runs two hours and 15 minutes, and that’s with the rushed pace. During the opening scene, for example, when Paco shows Barry and Kevin to their room, Paco delivers several minutes of exposition. It’s a lot of unnecessary words all at once to set up the play’s story.
The character Paco is one of the main problems of the script. Besides being burdened with too much exposition, his character comes across as far too casual when interacting with the hotel guests. In the first scene, for example, he sits down while he’s supposed to be welcoming the guests to the room. At one point, he walks into the room without knocking. Villegas works hard to overcome the weaknesses of the character, but the character itself never feels quite right.
Still, Our Productions is fitting for this time of year. The surprise ending will leave you haunted