Arts » Theater + Dance

Review: "Static" at The Phoenix Theatre

The play’s plot takes neither the conventional horror nor thriller



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-toc, fzzz). Others, however, indicate a troubled marriage and perhaps supernatural meddling.

Growing up, Emma had always heard that the wife, Millie (Jolene Mentink Moffatt), killed herself and her husband after he hid a “strange object” from her that she’d become obsessed with. In the course of the play, it’s eventually revealed that during her childhood Emma temporarily had possession of the object—a small, powder blue music box—which she one day returned to the couple at Walter’s request.

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 bathetic. The unsatisfactory ending—besides being disjointed from the rest the play’s mood and tone—also leaves the play’s moral commentary on our relationship with technology out of place. At one point, Walter warns Millie that “you think you own these things, but they own you”; but, toward the end of the play, he tells Emma (in a strange time overlap of past and present) that “things are precious…They are proof that we exist.” Perhaps a missed nuance in all of Static’s theatrical commotion.


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