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Preternatural Shadows

December 15, 2013

Mystery-Plays-2x3-web_optThe Mystery Plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, brings a medieval tradition back to life. Using the inherent mystical nature of the darker days of winter to ask the characters and audience questions about the nature of life, and our place there in.

Roberto’s work weaves two stories together, using the lens of the preternatural to examine dark questions about our place in the world. This is brought together brilliantly by the talented folks at The Visceral Company. Their gift for bringing macabre ideas to life is truly a joy to watch.

The audience is taken on a train ride through the more ephemeral realms. You begin to feel like a passenger in the Twilight Zone. The tracks pass the House of Mysteries, and the House of Secrets, on it’s way through the graveyard that separates our world from the unknown.

MYST PL photo 4Mister Mystery (Frank Blocker) serves as the conductor for our journey. Stepping through a black door onto a dark stage; he begins his soliloquy posing questions designed to engage and unnerve. As Mister Mystery explains the nature of the houses, and the journey we are about to undertake the entire cast assemble around him. Enter Joe Manning (Daniel Jimenez), he is late for his own mystery and is subsiquently chided by Mister Mystery.

The Filmmaker’s Mystery begins on a train, Joe is on his way home for the holidays. As the story progresses Joe takes a few asides for narration. Snapped from his introspection he finds a young man sitting next to him, Nathan West (Michael Mraz). Nathan or should I say Dr. West… recognizes Joe from his first movie, a Lovecraftian number, about a town called Dunwich. They hit it off and make plans to meet up after the holidays. Unfortunately those plans are about to be derailed.

Fortunately Joe steps off the train just before it leaves the station. For the remainder rest of the story Joe, his family, and the cops are filled with questions. Aside from the pressing “why am I alive” he must wrestle with Nathan’s ghost, the mystery of Nathan’s life and lies. Worse still, Joe seems to be coming down with a mysterious aliment, his sight is failing him. Eventually Joe comes to terms with what has happened, and his new place in life. I’ll leave his new path a mystery for y’all to figure out in person.

As The Filmmaker’s Mystery draws to a close Mister Mystery returns, acting again as the conductor. This time he is waiting on West. His final destination? Let’s just say it’s a south bound train. As the train pulls out of the station, and out of sight Joe is left behind to start his new life, and we are left to continue our journey with Mister Mystery.

MYST PL photo 2In Ghost Children, Abby Gilley (Devereau Chumarau) the lawyer, and ex-girlfriend of Joe travels home to Oregon, to wrestle with the ghosts of her past. These ghosts are made manifest by her brother Ben Gilley (Alex Taber) seeking her help. He needs her to serve as a character witness, so he can get out of jail. It’s been some 15 years since Ben killed their parents, and younger sister.

Abby’s journey begins on a plane ride, cross country. The use of a plane, train, and an automobile in the Mystery Plays hints at the journey through life we all take. Sometimes it’s planned out like the rails of a train, other times it’s like the back roads a car may take, random and uncertain. As her journey continues toward her brother, a shadow journey progresses. A shadow path through her past, moving closer to the event that would color her perception of the world. The death of her family, and the realization of her role in those events.

If The Filmmaker’s Mystery deals with ephemeral questions, and the supernatural, Ghost Children feels closer to our side of the veil. The turmoil Abby feels more tangible to the audience. Where Joe’s story ended in finality, Abby’s story ends indeterminately. Will she be able to forgive her brother, or herself? Would we be able to forgive ourselves for any wrongs we have wrought in our lives?

Mystery Plays uses a small cast, yet seems quite large in scope. This is due to the talented actors. Take Frank Blocker, a master of multiple personalities. His narrator Mister Mystery while a conductor of our journey is completely different from his roll as a Conductor on Joe’s trains. As the Caretaker of the cemetery, you feel the weight of age upon his shoulders as he moves. Laura Julian portrays a couple of matronly figures, yet each one stands apart. Michael Mraz plays a convincing serial killer in the first Act, and a life worn, yet caring chauffeur in act two. Daniel Jimenez plays the nervous life traveler unable to control the path of his life, but with the courage to question “why” none the less. Devereau Chumarau moves from sister, to wife and leading lady seamlessly. Her portrayal of Abby was brilliant, she left everything on stage including the pulp remnant of her heart. Her conviction as Abby was profound.MYST PL photo 5

The Mystery Plays uses the magic of winter to pose some uncomfortable questions. These questions need to be examined. Why does anything happen, do we control our destiny, if so can we forgive ourselves when the fault lies upon us? While most think of the holidays as a time for unbridled celebration, the dark nights offer a chance for introspection. Seeing such questions tackled on stage gives us leave to ask the same questions in our own lives. Or not, they could just be the premise of a great stage production.

The Mystery Plays by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, directed by Christopher Basile runs through January 5th at The Lex.

For more information please visit


All Photos credit Jeremy Andorfer

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