Jeffrey Jones' "70 Scenes of Halloween" is like a theatrical version of 52 Card Pick-Up or, to choose a more literary analogy, the Surrealist technique of cutting up words and phrases and rearranging them at random. According to the playwright's instJeffrey Jones' "70 Scenes of Halloween" is like a theatrical version of 52 Card Pick-Up or, to choose a more literary analogy, the Surrealist technique of cutting up words and phrases and rearranging them at random. According to the playwright's instructions, the director is encouraged to essentially toss the script's 70 short scenes in the air and have his cast perform them in whatever order they land.
Not that these scenes would necessarily make a lot more sense if they were performed in numerical sequence. However, there are several repeated motifs that crop up and lend a sense of whimsy to this curious work, being presented at St. John's Church by the Bowman Ensemble as the company's first production beyond its usual summer season.
For starters, the production's living room setting is dominated by a television set that is never turned off. During most of the play, the TV holds the mesmerized attention of the central characters, Jeff and Joan. Ghosts, beasts and witches bang on the window, waft through the room or wield butcher knives, but one or both protagonists maintain an almost constant vigil in front of the TV.
Other recurring events also offer potential distractions. Shoe boxes mysteriously appear on the porch or in the living room; a dead, plucked chicken occasionally diverts Jeff's interest; Jeff searches and searches for candy corn (one of several subjects about which he argues with Joan); and, since the play takes place on Halloween, trick-or-treaters keep ringing the doorbell (another subject that provokes Jeff's ire).
The order of the scenes is announced by director Matthew Ramsay, who stands at the back of the theater and calls out, for example, "Scene 6" or "37, go!" The scenes themselves are written in styles ranging from poetry to Elizabethan English to the once-upon-a-time language of fairy tales or the mundane dialogue of sitcoms and soap operas.
Despite the deliberately jumbled action, actors Mark Bernier and Dianne Signiski manage to imbue the characters of Jeff and Joan with distinct personalities. He's hostile and sarcastic; she's basically cheerful.
Granted, there's nothing too deep here. There's even less in Lucia Bowes' and Randy Hadaway's portrayals of the Witch and the Beast -- or are they supposed to be Jeff's and Joan's friends, merely dressed up for Halloween? Oh well, this is hardly the kind of linear play in which such questions are of major importance. As to the characterizations, well, this isn't a plumb-the-depths kind of play, either.
Except in one respect. Unlike literature, the events of real life often lack clearly defined beginnings, middles and ends. One event overlaps another, and when more than one person is involved, the participants frequently experience the same thing in different ways.
So, maybe the playwright is up to a little philosophical trick-or-treating. Or maybe not. Either way, "70 Scenes of Halloween" is quirky, inventive and fun. And though this Halloween play isn't particularly scary, the fire-damaged sanctuary of St. John's Church more than compensates in the atmosphere department.
"70 Scenes of Halloween"
Where: St. John's United Methodist Church, St. Paul and 27th streets
When: Wednesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m.; through Nov. 6
Tickets: $7. (Tickets to Sunday's post-performance Halloween party are $20 extra and benefit the Bowman Ensemble.)
Call: (410) 889-0406