Gaze long enough at Eric Beeck’s detailed set of a Victorian era house and you’ll swear it’s staring back at you. It’s an odd feeling, but it’s one that the slow, unfolding pace of the creepily atmospheric drama John by Annie Baker requires if the play is to work.
In Stray Cat Theatre’s 2016-17 season opener at its new Tempe Center for the Artshome in Tempe running now until October 1, an old home once used as an emergency hospital for union soldiers at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is now a somewhat spooky looking Bed & Breakfast. It’s not exactly the interior of the Adams Family, it’s not meant to be quite that obvious, but it’s the overall look and feel of the place that lends itself to something potentially creepy. The location seems fitting, too. With its ghostly memories of fallen civil war soldiers brutally massacred in nearby battlefields, the idea that something unseen may be hanging around and observing us is always there.
The success of the piece is down to Stray Cat’s production team and the four person cast who each convincingly inhabit their roles; five, if you count the character created by the atmospheric set. Director Ron May develops an unusual but effectively spooky atmosphere; it’s like the setup to a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe where a relationship explored may potentially fall apart due more to dark, unseen forces than personality conflicts. Is there something supernatural going on or are the characters simply victims of a growing self-doubt brought on by unnerving surroundings? That may be the point, or one of them, but you’re never quite sure.