Large blocks of color contrast against fog and shadow. There's excellent use of silhouettes. Occasionally very striking dramatic moments are held which contrast quite well against some really satisfying comedy. It’s a comic horror about an artificial haunted house taking place in an actual haunted house, but that’s an awful way to describe it. This is Aaron Kopec’s return to a Halloween show for October at the Alchemist Theatre.
David Sapiro and Nate Press play a playwright and a techie staging haunted theatrics in a genuinely haunted house. It's no surprise that Pepper’s Ghost turns out to be a lot of fun. Aaron Kopec has been doing original horror shows in October for years now. He's had a lot of experience with this sort of thing. So the quality and the fun aren't a surprise. What is a surprise is exactly where the fun lies.
The Shell Game Hero Thing
You don't really know who the hero will be until the end of the story. It's a horror movie device that actually works quite well here. In big Hollywood films it quite often comes off as kind of a cheap punchline in the end. In Pepper’s Ghost, Kopec uses the device in kind of a clever way. Relatively early on he sets up heroic qualities in nearly every character in the ensemble. We know that there is something sinister going on here. The big hero could be anyone. (Even the Nathan Danzer character I didn’t get to mention at all in my print review of the show.) Danzer makes for a delightful tortured hero bound to a haunted house. Real traditional charisma from a real traditional horror hero. The big hero in the end cold be him or it could be someone else. We don't know what exactly what it is or exactly who is going to rectify it.
The Goldthwait Factor
Nate Press does a really good Bobcat Goldthwait impression. He’s a talented actor. I would imagine, though, the Goldthwait’s not a skill he gets to use all that often. Here that impression is just one more detail in a script populated by fun, little gimmicky details including a really satisfying reference to the 2003 film Lost in Translation. Like that reference, the Goldthwait is just one more throwaway joke. The beauty of writing an original script with a specific cast in mind is that it allows the production to be responsive to the cast. Makes for a fun show. The Goldthwait’s it precisely the sort of thing that Kopec has been doing so well for so many years.
The Dual Kopec Theory
The story touches on themes of reality versus artifice on stage in a nightmare fantasy that may actually be a reality. Kopec never really fully flashes these out. There IS some real depth to some of what's being explored in the deeper intellectual and of the dialogue. Rather than dwell on that, Kopec keeps it light for the most part. There's actually a pretty even mix of drama and comedy combined with a few genuine scares.
There are parallels between the playwright in the story and the playwright played by Sapiro. Kopec makes numerous jokes at his own expense. There are references the previous Halloween shows. Interestingly enough, and there seems to be kind of a binary echo of two different sides of Kopec's personality. Sapiro's playwright seems to play to Kopec’s deeper, more critical intellectual side. The techie played by Nate Press seems to play to Kopec's lighter more physical and impetuous side. One imagines the script being written with this in mind. As both a techie and a playwright one imagines Kopec splitting himself apart and imagining how the two separate sides of him would interact with this premise that he’s established for the play.
Of course...if one takes this line of though too far, one begin to wonder whether or not ALL of the characters are just different aspects of Kopec and . . . it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that this is really just a fun trip to the theatre on an October evening.
The Alchemist Theatre’s Pepper’s Ghost runs through Oct. 28 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S Kinnickinnic Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit Alchemist online. A comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.