The dark woods in the Huntington Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks is a bit scarier now, with the current production at Bay Village’s Huntington Playhouse. The theater is presenting the period thriller “I’ll Be Back Before Midnight.” Set in the 1970s, the spirit of the era is integral to the plot. This was a simpler time of no cellphones, and for the rural folk of this show, stereo equipment was the new technology.
The tightly written four-character show has elements of comedy, but mostly the characters and events are creepy. Jan Sanderson is recovering from an unnamed mental condition, which appears to be a very theatrical nervous breakdown. Trying her best to be “normal,” her shrillness is creepy; making coffee is a task hard to achieve, and her nightmares keep the whole house awake. Her equally creepy husband, Greg, does some sort of research on rocks, and has a strange machine to smash them.
They rent a rural house from a farmer who seems to be helpful, but he tells creepy stories while drinking whiskey by the glassful. Creepiest of all is Greg’s sister Laura, some sort of successful media type. She is obsessed with her brother and disapproving of his marriage to “a crazy woman.” She has joined them on the trip. All of the characters are thin and simply drawn, but maybe, just maybe, one of them is not who he or she seems to be. Since they are all creepy, one might hope that the change is for the better, but … well, you’ll just have to see the show for yourself.
I saw “I’ll be Back Before Midnight” at a dress rehearsal through the courtesy of director Dave MacKeigan. The cast of four enjoyed playing the shallow characters, and did so well. Before intermission, the show escalates to the “fun, scary stuff.” Ann Chriszt is the nervous wreck, Jan, who tries to make audiotapes for her therapist when the abnormal shenanigans begin to happen. As geologist Greg, Alex Nalbach speaks of his beloved rocks with great relish and comically “goes running” to calm down when things turn bad. Unfortunately, this leaves his wife alone when the terrifying events begin. People do not act logically in these horror stories.
Alisha Neubauer who plays ice-cold Laura would send me running if she showed up anywhere, let alone on a couple’s vacation. As George, Bob Kenderes has the gruff voice and rough look of a farmer neighbor with a heart of gold.
Audiences at Huntington Playhouse will enjoy the spooky music and amplified heartbeats that precede the scary stuff in the production. There’s nothing to think about with “I’ll Be Home Before Midnight,” and the second-act twists keep the plot far ahead of the audience’s ability to figure things out. Do be aware that there is nothing supernatural in the show, though the script is wildly improbable. For some laughs and some thrills you might consider “I’ll Be Home Before Midnight,” which runs through Nov. 17. It’s the perfect Halloween production.