Tricky treat

Deconstructing an American holiday.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN THE pumpkin cookies and the slasher films, the holiday kitsch and the razor blades in the apples, is the true spirit of Halloween. It's that odd mixture of real and imaginary, fake and authentic, spooky and terrifying that drives 70 Scenes of Halloween, Jeffrey F. Jones' avant garde classic that uses a refracted narrative lens to follow the lives of a couple on the scariest night of the year.

70 Scenes of Halloween

Hyperion Theater till October 31

In the run-down living room of Jeff (Jay Jenkins) and Joan (Sara Balcaitis), it looks to be a fairly routine Halloween night. The TV's on, the doorbell occasionally rings for trick-or-treaters, and in the first few scenes all we hear are subtle variants on conversations about what's on TV, arguments about candy corn, and deciding who's going to answer the door this time. But after the stage manager (intriguingly masked as a devil) has introduced a few of these intensely brief scenes, other figures—a beast, a witch, and eventually a whole platoon of ghosts—start to appear on the periphery of the room.

The mood of the scenes whipsaws wildly from comedy to domestic drama to horrific to just plain weird, as in an extended scene when suddenly Jeff becomes deeply involved with a plucked chicken carcass. The play and this production are adept at not only finding a tone for each scene, but playing with a series of simple props in a manner that makes us constantly reinterpret them. When a character is wearing a sheet, it could be that she or he is a ghost. Or playing a ghost. Or invisible. Or just wearing a sheet for no particularly good reason. The audience is challenged to discern the context of each scene with the rapidity of flash cards, and it's an exhilarating game.

Jenkins and Balcaitis flit across dramatic styles with craft and humor, headlining an especially strong cast. The show does tend to pall a bit toward the second half, when you may begin to wish that 10 or 20 scenes had been cut. But director Amy Lane should be pleased with creating a quirky and original album of images and ideas just right for flipping through on an October evening.

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