Theatre review: Haunted – cast works hard against dull script

Its third in as many years, Metro Theatre presents another Eric Chappell penned play with Haunted, on stage through June 4, 2011.

Neurotic playwright Nigel Burke not only has writer’s block, he also suffers from agoraphobia, is trapped inside a loveless marriage and remains quite blasé about his wife having an affair with his agent.  With the help of a mysterious skull chalice, Nigel looks to his idol Lord Byron for both inspiration and salvation.

Billed as a “spooky comedy thriller”, Haunted may be funny at times but there really is nothing particularly spooky or thrilling about it.  Disappointingly, a great deal of it lands with a thud, much like the ghost of Lord Byron attempting to walk through the door.  Much of the problem with Haunted lies with playwright Chappell who makes his characters so uninteresting that by the time Nigel finally has to make up his mind to leave or to stay, we simply don’t care.

Samuel B Barnes and Eric Freilich in Metro Theatre's production of Haunted.
Samuel B Barnes and Eric Freilich in Metro Theatre’s production of Haunted.

The cast works hard against Chappell’s dull script but ultimately fails at bringing the even duller characters to life.  While Samuel B Barnes easily gives Nigel his neuroses, we see little of a changed man by the end, other than a gradual relaxation of his shoulders.

As his uninterested wife, Emma Drury tended towards posing and we see about as much spark between her and her lover, Nigel’s literary agent Turner Gould (Robert Sterling), as we do between her and her husband.  As the ghost of Byron, Eric Freilich was also prone to posing, but here it was actually quite clever as if each of his scenes were plucked directly from one of the many paintings of him that dotted Nigel’s study.

Kevin Sloan starts off well as the odd Mr Potter but is once again hampered by Chappell’s odder decision to pair him with Nigel in the finale.  Lisa Gach, in failing to capture any level of seductress in her Julia makes us wonder what possible reason Nigel could have in wanting to leave one uninteresting woman for another.

Once again Metro excels at its set design with Catherine Morrison, who also directs, creating a believable country study complete with wooden beams.  Morrison is also responsible for the costumes and the sound and music design which begs the question if perhaps she found herself spread a little thin.  Lighting, this time by Les Erskine, continues to be problematic for Metro with constantly changing lighting levels and a number of cold spots, which for some reason actors always manage to find.

Ironically, early in, Turner declares that the play Nigel is struggling to write needs more passion.  Perhaps Mr Chappell should have heeded his own words.

After re-reading my reviews for the other two Chappell shows at Metro, I’m thinking perhaps it is time to give Mr Chappell a rest.

2 1/2 Stars of 3 Haunted

By Eric Chappell.  Directed by Catherine Morrison.  A Metro Theatre production.  On stage at Metro Theatre through June 4, 2011.  Visit http://www.metrotheatre.org for tickets and information.

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