Static by Tom Horan is a thriller-mystery equipped with science fiction tropes. Ghosts are in the machines, white noise is the dead communicating with the living and the past can skip ahead in time to influence the present. These tropes are put to interesting ends—for example, using time travel to juxtapose on stage the neighborhood legend of a tragic event with what actually occurred—but they’re also the reason for many of the play’s ambiguities, inconsistencies, and narrative cul-de-sacs.
When Emma (Chelsey Stauffer) buys a house in her hometown which once belonged to a hoarder-couple with a local reputation, she discovers an old collection of recordings that the husband, Walter (Rich Rand), left behind. Most are just inventories of items in the house (“a fan,” “a grandfather clock,” “a coffee pot”) followed by their sounds (whirr, tic-
All of the characters are unbelievable, not because they’re poorly played, but because their transitive emotions are unrealistic. And while at first Emma’s boyfriend, Owen (Ben Schuetz), appears to be a surrogate for the audience, he winds up lacking both courage and sympathy.
If the play were to have followed conventional horror lines, it would’ve turned out either that the ghost of Millie lured Emma back to the house for vengeance or that the music box was possessed by an evil spirit that haunts whoever possesses it. On the other hand, if it had followed conventional thriller lines, the congenial Walter would’ve turned out to be responsible for the couple’s murder-suicide and his ghost what actually brought Emma back to the house, with Millie leaving coded messages from the past trying to warn her.
The play’s plot takes neither the conventional horror nor thriller lines, however, but instead opts for the