“2:22 – A Ghost Story,” Ahmanson Theatre, Los Angeles, Oct. 29 – Dec. 4, 2022
Nov. 6, 2022 | By Bruce R. Feldman
In Brief: A supernatural tale that fuses yuppie kvetching with an old-fashioned ghost story, this jumpy four-hander delivers modest laughs, chills, and surprises in a diverting if no-great-shakes production.
Jenny (Constance Wu) and Sam (Finn Wittrock) are renovating the old house they’ve just bought in a gentrifying Boston neighborhood. They’re ripping out the cabinetry handcrafted by the husband – now dead – of the elderly couple who lived there before, gutting the old bathrooms, and installing skylights. The big home is cold and creaky. It feels creepy. Windows that were shut are found to be inexplicably open. Jenny hears footsteps upstairs when no one else is there. A storm rages outside. Bursts of lightning punctuate the feeling of dread.
No, the house wasn’t built on a forgotten Native American cemetery, but Jenny wonders if the old man disapproves and is haunting the place to prevent further changes. There’s little time to worry because their old friend Lauren (Anna Camp) and her latest boyfriend Ben (Adam Rothenberg) are coming for dinner. Lauren and Sam were close college chums, though Jenny senses, and the play suggests, that there might have been more to their relationship than that.
So, a dark and stormy night, the possibility of a ghostly menace, sexual tension between the four friends, an overall feeling of impending dread, and a few MacGuffins I won’t mention here. That’s the set up. We’ve seen this before. Now it’s up to playwright Danny Robins and director Matthew Dunster to show how clever they are if what’s to come is going to scare the bejusus out of us.
The house wasn’t built on a forgotten Native American cemetery, but Jenny wonders if the old man disapproves and is haunting the place to prevent further changes
That they succeed only up to a point may be due at least partially to one factor out of the creative team’s control. The Ahmanson probably is part of the problem. At 2,100 seats it’s too large, modern, soulless for a production like this. In London, where the show has been a considerable hit, it’s playing at the intimate 588-seat Criterion Theater, which opened in 1873 and likely has several generations of its own ghosts by now. Moreover, the playhouse is situated about 30-feet below street level. Which setting feels more claustrophobic and eerie to you?
The acting and production values at The Ahmanson are generally proficient, Lucy Carter’s lighting being the exception. The whole show feels underlit to me. It’s dreary rather than expressive, relying on one repeated technical gimmick to presage the shocking twist at the end, along with the foreboding, terror, and anxiety that the playwright, director, and actors hope to supply but never quite achieve in full measure.
“2:22 – A Ghost Story,” Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 213-628-2772, www.centertheatregroup.org