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For the more rational among us, it’s hard to resist a good ghost story. The mystery and suspense are part of the allure, but perhaps even more tantalizing is the imaginative glimpse of what lies beyond the grave.
A supernatural tale suggests that there are more things in heaven and earth than we dream of in our philosophy, to steal Hamlet, the most haunted figure in all of literature. As a youngster, I was terrified of ghosts. As a middle aged man, I am terrified of a world without them.
“Someone Else’s House,” the latest offering in Geffen Playhouse’s Stayhouse series, brings the horror genre to the digital scene. The show, written and performed by multimedia artist Jared Mezzocchi and directed by Margot Bordelon, tests whether a haunted house can rest on a virtual foundation.
The result, while conceptually clever, is more entertaining than scary. I went to bed without checking under my bed, and when I woke up to a strange bang in the other room, I assumed it was the cat and turned around.
Mezzocchi sets out to blur the line between fiction and reality. He repeatedly states that his story – about a rambling old house in Enfield, NH, where his family lived for a short time before he was born – is true. His brother, he says, still has nightmares about what happened there. The trauma haunts the family to this day.
“I’m not causing a sensation,” insists Mezzocchi. “I want to know why this happened.”
To this end, he combs through the historical and genealogical records. He interviews his mother on video. Google Maps and Findagrave.com make it easy to find and bring modern life to the town of Enfield.
A mystery box, part of Geffen Stayhouse’s interactive recipe, is sent to members of the public in advance. The content is meant to be a surprise, so without saying too much, let me say that one of the elements is meant to change the viewing atmosphere and perhaps replace the campfire around which stories from. this kind is proverbially developing.
(Warning: do not go into the rest of the review if you have tickets to “Someone Else’s House.” I repeat: do not go in. Come back when you are safely back from your trip. Good luck to you.)
Like any reputable supplier of occult tales, Mezzocchi is careful to present his details in a way lively enough to be disturbing but not specific enough to raise disqualifying objections. The mention of a “slaughter cellar” seems a bit too much on the nose, until it is explained that a former owner of the house, built in 1800, ran a tannery there.
There’s an intrigue involving a swarm of bees that doesn’t seem beyond the bounds of natural science. When splattered blood appears out of nowhere in the account, police avoided panic by raising the possibility of an injured animal.
The shadow of an evil specter gradually creeps in. The main culprit is the soul of the Patriarch who owns Clan Johnson, the family who retained ownership of the house until the Mezzocchi moved in. I wanted to believe, that is to say, I wanted to be afraid. But the claim of documentary accuracy increased my skepticism.
My own internet detective work informed me that Enfield is also the name of a London borough famous for its own (discredited) poltergeist. Strange coincidence or artistic cover-up? You’ll have to decide for yourself, but I wish I hadn’t checked my phone during the performance.
Mezzocchi’s regular quality Joe, dressed for the cold New England weather like a hipster plumber on an emergency call, worked until he stopped working. I couldn’t help but notice a light in the background that continued to flash. The subtlety of the effect becomes more and more pronounced, a reminder of Mezzocchi’s esteemed multimedia background. If it hadn’t been for such an emphasis on factuality, I might have been better able to provide the necessary suspension of goosebumps disbelief.
Still, I was impressed with how the production, a collaboration with Virtual Design Collective, progressed. The decor, when it is finally revealed, is a real twist. If I didn’t know Mezzocchi had another show that night, I might have called 911 to rescue him.
Ghost stories ultimately fail in providing proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. They capture our imaginations by creating an environment in which we can slip out of the handcuffs of our analytical brains and plunge into the darkness that grips our mortal appearances in this earthly realm.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.