In 1972 a parapsychologist in Toronto tried a strange experiment — get a bunch of people together to make up a fictional historical character and then try to conjure him up, though the power of the mind, as a ghost in a séance.
It didn’t work out that well. But it didn’t work out as badly as things do in David Skeele’s play The Margins, now showing in a Molotov Theatre Group production at DC Arts Center.
Creating spirits through the force of mind has been an intriguing enough notion that Toronto’s Philip Experiment, as it was called, also inspired two horror films, The Apparition and The Quiet Ones.
…they were each so committed to their roles, to them work, even in the most absurd situations.
There’s a cinematic aspect to the Molotov production as well, as a resting video camera projects a black and white image of the goings on onto a framed screen above a mantlepiece. In addition to allowing titles and credits before the drama, it provides an additional angle to the action, albeit a monochrome one.
The black and white images on the screen are a reminder that, except for the screaming vulgarities, The Margins might have made for a taut episode of The Twilight Zone. As it is, it might still be a decent episode of Black Mirror. In an era when Ghost Hunters gave way to a whole genre of paranormal TV, the search for the supernatural certainly has an audience.
The Margins involves a parapsychologist (Adam R. Adkins) in the present day apparently, who tries to replicate the Philip Experiment in an old Hudson Valley mansion where haunted happenings were said to occur. He loads up the field with some other psychics, an intense psychic historian (Jen Bevan) who has had some romantic history with another seer, the organizing doctor’s current girlfriend (Katie Jeffries).
Then there’s a mute guy (Yoni Gray) who’s a little spooky on his own, a kind of glam psychic in red pants and a pompadour (Elliott Kashner) and a reporter (Brian McDermott). (It’s said that the guy is from The New York Times, but that’s hardly believable from the way he acts and talks, with lines like “The lesbos – what’s their story?” The New York Post maybe, but not the Times.)
Anyway, once they’re all together and ready to raise the fictional dead, odd things happen. They’re locked in. The lights falter. There’s a scream. You get the idea.
Is the spirit moving among them, or their warped psyches that are creating this amped up situation?
It builds to a climax, while not coming too soon, puts an effective end to the story. It figures that director Carl Brandt Long is also the fight choreographer, since a lot of what is effective at the end is due to those careful movements.
Before the curtain, theater founder Alex Zavistovich assured the audience it was OK to laugh if they were so moved; that’s a natural response to fright. But there was also something amusing about the heightened response of the company.
Still, it was to their credit that at the most climactic moments they were each so committed to their roles, to them work, even in the most absurd situations.
Though it fits in with the horror aspirations of the Molotov Theatre, The Margins may not be the best example of the Grand-Guginol traditions to which they also adhere. Instead, you might call it, despite its occasional thrills, a little marginal.
Running time: 65 minutes, no intermission.
Advisory: The theater website puts it in boldface and capital letters: “Adult language, realistic and hyper-realistic portrayals of violence…Parents of children under 13 are cautioned.”
The Margins runs through April 26 at DC Arts Center, 2438 18th St NW. Tickets are available online.