Saturday, May 18, 2024

"Bonehouse / Outsider" by Ghoulish Delights at The Crane Theater Studio

And now for something a little spookier, Ghoulish Delights is presenting a pair of short plays about two lonely individuals who are trying to escape. But don't worry, this isn't Twin Cities Horror Festival (although it is in the same venue - The Crane Theater's intimate studio space), so there isn't any blood or gore. But there is well-crafted storytelling, like a ghost story you'd tell around a campfire, that'll send chills up your spine. At just about an hour runtime, and a 7pm start time, stop by the Crane for some chills and thrills before going about your evening plans. If you can shake it; these two pieces cast a dark and contemplative spell that's a little hard to shake when you escape out into the still light evening, which these two protagonists were unable to do. Bonehouse / Outsider plays Thursdays through Saturdays until May 25, which a post-show discussion with the playwright of Bonehouse after the May 24 performance.

In Bonehouse (written by playwright Kendra Fanconi), a teenage boy tells us about his life in a small town. He works on the farm with his father and siblings (his mother having died), and has a crush on the owner of the town diner. But some nefarious unspoken thing causes him to repeatedly try to run away, only to be dragged back to town. The cycle continues, until it doesn't. Similarly, in Outsider (a short story by horror author H.P. Lovecraft), the protagonist tells us about his life trapped in a castle surrounded by tall trees, where he's seemingly lived all of this life, with no human contact. One day he climbs the tallest tower in order to glimpse the sky above, only to find himself in another world. But his attempts to escape his world of loneliness and find connection are as thwarted as the boy's attempts to run away in the first play.

Both plays feel like short stories, and in fact the second one is. Both are full of such descriptive language that you could close your eyes and imagine the world. Production designer Ariel Pinkerton has aided that imagination with evocative lighting, creepy sound effects (that mixed with the rain on the roof in the best way), and artfully constructed piles of junk on two sides of the in-the-round space. An empty frame is used to represent escape, with a couple of chairs and a bench moved around the empty space.

Each story really could be told by one person, and both of the lead actors are incredible at evoking the feelings of the story. Xan Mattek is so natural and believable as this kid desperate to escape, and Tim Uren fully embodies this lonely creature, hunched over and stumbling around the space. But these are not solo plays; the addition of two actors (Ariel again, and Matt Kessen) makes it feel more theatrical as they play other characters or provide movement.

I don't know if these two pieces are often paired together, or if it was a Ghoulish decision, but they work so well together and really feel like two parts of the same story. The directors also work well together, with similar but somewhat different styles for each piece. Tim directs Bonehouse, with a little big lighter and more playful tone until thinks get darker, and movement around the space that makes us feel the boy's restlessness to escape. Amber Bjork (of The Winding Sheet Outfit) directs Outsider, dark and creepy from the start, with some really beautiful and haunting physicality

If you're a fan of the aforementioned TC Horror Festival, you'll definitely want to check this out to tide you over until October. Or if you're just looking for theater that is something a little different, a little more intimate, or just plain well-crafted storytelling, see these two well-paired little plays.