In a landscape where horror movies can be amplified with a plethora of effects and gruesome makeup, it’s easy to make a viewer jump out of his or her seat. Emily Schwend’s The Other Thing (now playing at Second Stage Theatre’s uptown space through June 7) has that same horror film effect, but manages to do so in a small theater with only a couple of chairs, some eerie lights and music, and just four cast members.
Kim (Samantha Soule) is a thirty-something journalist working on a story about the father-son ghost hunting team of Carl (The Wire’s John Doman) and Brady (James Kautz) outside a barn in rural Virginia. A fairly uneventful night ensues, and just when the play’s lack of spook starts to feel a little too drawn out, Kim starts acting strange while talking to Carl, and with a sudden flash of light, something takes her over and the fear begins. The ghost everyone was waiting for—the titular ‘other thing’—had been there all along.
At first, it’s unclear how the terror element of The Other Thing will take shape; it doesn’t seem like much could happen other than a voice booming out of the speakers or one of the other actors jumping out for a quick scare. But scream-inducing antics aren’t necessary with a character like Kim, who is visibly troubled by this ‘other thing.’ (“I have terrible thoughts sometimes. Terrible thoughts that frighten me,” she tells Thomas (Bhavesh Patel), her on-and-off boyfriend introduced in the second act.) Her struggle to keep these “terrible thoughts”’ away makes human interaction difficult, which in turn makes each scene chillingly tense as they could return at any given moment.
Without the aid of effects or even a costume change, Soule’s two-sided performance is haunting; the raw quality of watching a scenario unfold live or a simple lighting trick can denote a spirit adds to the shivery atmosphere. Whatever the case, the execution is successful if slow-to-build, and Doman, Kautz and Patel offer strong support. While The Other Thing might not make for an entirely realistic storyline, it still allows for one thing to be realized—ghost hunting could result in a closer encounter than prepared for. B