The Margins, presented by Molotov Theatre Group, is a gem of a show. In the grand tradition of the classic ghost story and Molotov’s own mission to present suspense and horror plays, this bewitching production of a play by David Skeele will give theatre-goers more food for thought than nightmare fuel.
The audience arrives at the DC Arts Center, ushered down a flight of rickety wooden steps into a hidden black box theater. With only four rows of seats, the audience is thrust right up into the action of the stage. Although the intimate nature of the venue might invite audience-actor interaction, the fourth wall remains firmly closed off for the duration of this show, which works extremely well in the context of the characters’ claustrophobia. The story begins with a cast of four psychics and a highly skeptical reporter gathered together in a crumbling old manor house by a paranormal investigator who leads them in conducting an experiment to try and raise a spiritual entity. Unexpectedly for the majority of the characters, complications arise due to personal history between them and the chilling history of the manor house itself, from whence the horror of the play arises.
Much of the psychological effect of a suspenseful film or theatre piece comes from its soundtrack, and Gregory Thomas Martin’s music and sound design for this production is creepy, atmospheric, and—most importantly—well understated such that what the audience hears sends chills down their spine but doesn’t distract from the action taking place. The gore effects in the play are perfectly executed and believable. The one slightly distracting element of the production is the use of a video camera onstage (not part of the stage directions in Skeele’s script) projecting onto a screen in the back wall of the set. Your correspondent kept an eye on the video screen throughout, wondering when it would become important to the plot, but it seemed superfluous until the final moments of the play. With such fantastic actors, the audience needs to be distracted from them as little as possible.
The story of The Margins is essentially an example of the enduring genre of the classic ghost story. A few modern updates like the use of cell phones as part of the plot do not mar the timeless appeal of its basic premise (a group of people gather for a séance and all hell breaks loose), which would not be at all out of place as one of the dramatizations that Charles Dickens produced of his ghost stories. In a sense, the Molotov production team is resurrecting Victorian ghosts just as much as the characters are. Like much classic horror, this play frightens but does not shock with copious use of excessive gore or “boo” scares. The Margins does not leave its audience glancing over their shoulders fearfully on the way home, or having nightmares of curses and contagions. Instead, a highly thought-provoking meditation on what it truly means to resurrect a ghost is articulated by the character Phyllida near the close of the play and forms the lasting heart of this production.
The Margins, written by David Skeele and directed by Carl Brandt Long, is playing at the DC Arts Center on weekends from April 2 – April 26 and on April 22nd Molotov will host a paranormal discussion and demonstration.
By Emma Bilski